Community-Based Ecotourism in the Maya World
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This thesis research seeks to evaluate a paradox of sorts interrelating the successes, challenges, and opportunities of community-based ecotourism development in Guatemala. In the village of Uaxactún, in the northern Petén department, tourism development has floundered despite the community’s surrounding archaeology sites, forests, biodiversity, and unique cultural tourism experiences. To understand the reasons contributing to a lack of tourism initiative, awareness, and development, the products, marketing strategies, and structural dynamics hindering community and ecotourism growth within Uaxactún were assessed. Further completion of this research also encompassed four weeks of ethnographic based field methods such as semi-structured interviews, archival analysis, and participant observations. I argue that Uaxactún has immense potential to develop community and ecotourism as an economic supplement to agriculture and the harvesting of non-traditional forestry products (NTFPS). The community boasts the first excavated ruins in the Mayan World, an onsite museum with over 500 artifacts, and tours regarding the history and viability of community forest management. Despite these positive aspects, the community’s tourism sector faces significant challenges. Community tourism remains hindered by a lack of promotion, adequate accommodations, and reliable and safe transportation. Furthermore, I argue that two of the most pressing challenges facing future tourism potential and development within Uaxactún are a lack of interest in and prioritization of community tourism by the Guatemalan government, and relatedly, large-scale traditional tourism in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) that threatens to undermine forestry communities. Uaxactún’s experience is not unique; rather, it illuminates the challenges and opportunities of community and ecotourism development across the Global South.