20 / Oct / 2004
New Geotourism Strategy for Honduras, a Country that Has it All
The Honduras Institute of Tourism is teaming up with the National Geographic Society in developing a new tourism development and marketing strategy for a country whose strength lies in its diversity. Honduras will be the first country destination to adopt a “Geotourism” strategy, based on the model developed from the Geotourism Study conducted by National Geographic Traveler Magazine in 2002. A new trend in international tourism marketing, geotourism “encompasses both cultural and environmental concerns regarding travel, as well as the local impact tourism has upon communities and their individual economies and lifestyles.” Geotourism is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”
A principal concern expressed in the Geotourism Study is that “destinations are morphing into homogeneous places that offer like experiences.” This has resulted in “a loss of distinctive characteristics, an erosion of local customs and cuisines, an absence of regional architecture and general culture.” The study finds that it is exactly these distinctive characteristics that in fact “attract the customers who take the most trips, spend the most money, and produce the greatest volume of visitors overall.”
Honduras embraces the geotourism strategy because it fully takes into account the impressive cultural, historical and archaeological diversity that characterizes the country, as well as Honduras’ tropical biodiversity. On the Caribbean coast, lush rain forests give way to pristine cloud forests as they rise to mist enshrouded peaks. Scenic pine forests cover much of the interior. Arid thorn forests harbor a wealth of specialized species found nowhere else. Teeming swamps and mangrove forests lie behind some of the region’s best beaches. The well-known Bay Islands harbor an unmatched diversity of life in their fringing coral reefs.
Nine different ethnic groups speaking nearly as many languages contribute to a cultural heritage as rich as it is diverse. Vestiges of Honduras’ Colonial past grace dozens of rural towns and the central plazas of its cities. Decades of world-class research at the Copan Ruins have made it the most intensely studied and best understood of all Maya sites. A wealth of intricate stone sculpture put Copan at the height of Maya artistry. And Copan is only the best known of the scores of important Maya and non-Maya pre-Columbian sites throughout the country awaiting the attention they deserve.
On the other side of the geotourism coin are the geotourists themselves, “travelers concerned with preserving a destination’s geographic character – the entire combination of natural and human attributes that make one place distinct from another.” These travelers have high expectations for unique and culturally authentic travel experiences that protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment. Geotourists represent a desirable market for Honduras. The Geotourism Study estimated that there are over 50 million geotourists in the United States alone. They are well educated, have high disposable incomes and tend to stay longer in a destination. They appreciate natural and cultural diversity. They are not overly demanding of the country’s still-growing tourism infrastructure. And they share Honduras’ commitment to sustainable tourism practices.
Adopting a geotourism strategy for Honduras means that the government, tourism industry stakeholders and civil society in general will establish policies and practices aimed at preserving and even enhancing that which is authentically Honduran - forests and seas, cultures and traditions, cityscapes and landscapes, its interesting past. Honduras must celebrate its geographical character - the entire combination of natural and human attributes that make Honduras distinct. The new strategy will both recognize the strides Honduras has taken in preserving and celebrating its geographical character, and set the bar higher by institutionalizing the strategy throughout government and private sector efforts to develop a sustainable tourism industry.
All text within quotes excerpted from The Geotourism Study, sponsored by National Geographic Traveler and prepared by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), 2002.