Team ProNaturaleza: Opportunities Abundant in Paracas, Perú

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Team ProNaturaleza – Katie McMahon, Adam Selvin, Priyal Sheth, and Michelle Verwest – are in Peru consulting for ProNaturaleza, one of the largest and most successful Latin American NGOs focused on environmental conservation.  Our project is centered on the Interpretation Center (i.e., visitor/guest center) of the Paracas National Reserve, a natural protected area located on the southern Pacific coast of Peru, approximately 250 km south of Lima.  The main purpose of the Paracas National Reserve is preservation of the marine ecosystem of over 1,500 species and historical cultural heritage of the area.  In addition to a business plan, we will evaluate the economic viability of ProNaturaleza operating the Interpretation Center with the government and propose a business model for replication to other national reserves in Peru.  A long-term goal of our client is to generate a profitable revenue stream to reduce dependence on private funding while promoting conservation in Peru’s important, valuable, and beautiful ecosystems. 

¡Buenas Tardes de Perú! 

Team ProNaturaleza has had a busy week evaluating ecotourism in the Paracas region of Peru!  As of the end of this week, we have conducted many interviews, including interviews with the Head of the Paracas National Reservel (‘El Hefe’), managers of three four- and five-star hotels located in the Bahía de Paracas, and representatives from a local fishing village in the Paracas National Reserve.

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Insights from El Hefe

Paracas National Reserve is managed by the Peruvian government entity SERNANP (Servico Nacional de Areas Naturales Protagdes por el Estado).  An eye-opening interview with the head of the reserve provided valuable insights to working with the government.  With a limited budget for operating the reserve, El Hefe candidly shared the difficulties of managing 335,000 hectors of protected land and sea area with limited resources.  The reserve’s rules are difficult to enforce, especially with little support from local police and cooperation from visitors.  It is extremely difficult for reserve management to make decisions without buy-in from the head SERNANP office in Lima and plans are executed at a snail’s pace.  The reserve’s understaffed operations allow minimal resources dedicated to the Interpretation Center, explaining the underutilized enclosed area of the center, broken exhibits and displays, unmaintained facilities, and lack of tourism offerings and services for visitors.  Government oversight, requirements, and timing will be key considerations for ProNaturaleza as they negotiate a contract with the government to operate the Interpretation Center, a viable proposal that clearly makes sense given the center’s under-utilization and complete lack of revenue generation.

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Hotel Operators Optimistic

The interviews with the hotel operators concluded that tourism is thriving in the Paracas area, yet there remains enormous potential for growth in ecotourism services and offerings in the Paracas National Reserve.  Hotels are consistently at or near 100% occupancy during high seasons and on the weekends.  A new four-star hotel is under construction and set to open in October before a large conference in the area in November – all hotels are completely sold out for the conference and during most weekends during the summer.  Tourism growth is optimistic with demand trending upward.  We discovered the average daily spend at the hotels is a significant multiple over the daily spend of the average tourist at the Paracas National Reserve, indicating an opportunity to increase the average spend through robust tour offerings and services in the Paracas National Reserve from the Interpretation Center.

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Lessons in Conservation, Continued

A shocking realization came to light with a visit to a local fishing village in the national reserve.  With several fishing villages grandfathered into the reserve’s protected area charter, the relationship between some of the local fisherman and the reserve is strained due to historical fishing practices that do not contribute to sustainability or conservation, including fishing with dynamite and in unauthorized areas.  While exploring one of the reserve’s many secluded beaches, Team ProNaturaleza came across two dead sea lions on the beach.  Our assigned expert conservation consultant, Luis Rios, speculated that the sea lions died due to unnecessary force and beating from the fishermen when the sea lions became stuck in their fishing nets.  This heartbreaking story led us to think about opportunities in which the Interpretation Center could provide outreach programs educating the fisherman on sustainability and conservation best practices to coexist peacefully with existing marine life.  There is also opportunity for the Interpretation Center to involve local fisherman in tourism, thereby driving spending and increased wealth to their communities.

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Tourists Ourselves!

We were able to put ourselves in the shoes of the Interpretation Center’s future visitors by playing tourists ourselves!  We have enjoyed exploring the vast and beautiful Paracas National Reserve, its culture, birds and marine animals, beaches, cliffs, and natural overlooks.  Touring the Ballestas Islands via boat, we viewed the unique and abundant marine life, noting that the tour operators navigated too close to the sea lions and penguins to be within the legal limits as defined by the government – another conservation issue to note that ProNaturaleza could potentially help alleviate through education and outreach.  It has been especially enjoyable to research and indulge in the many culinary offerings of the Bahía de Paracas, including the absolute freshest ceviche, seafood, shellfish, octopus, and the famous Pisco Sour!  ¡BUENASASO!

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Team ProNaturaleza returns to Lima tomorrow looking forward to an important meeting with the head of SERNANP on Monday and an eventful and productive week in the ProNaturaleza offices!

¡Chao… Hasta Luego!

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