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Groups help tourists leave not a trace

Responsible tourism does not safeguard only plants and animals. With the boom in eco-tourism (as well as in adventure and educational travel), trips to areas where indigenous peoples live apart from the industrial world are of increasing concern.

A number of watchdog organizations have sprung up to offer guidance to tour operators and independent travelers who want to leave only footprints and to avoid even that, if footprints might disturb.

The non-profit Eco-Tourism Society, a 5-year-old group in North Bennington, Vt., does not operate tours; it wants to help people find their way instead of taking them by the hand. Like other organizations, it stresses the informed consent and participation of local residents as the starting point for responsible tourism in less developed areas.

Dr. David Pearson, a professor of zoology at Arizona State University, said that recently an awareness has developed that the formula "if you build it, they will come" is not a recipe for sustainable development. He cited the Kapawi area, near Ecuador's southeastern border, where the Achuar Indians rejected roads and cattle as part of development. Pearson said the Achuar knew change was inevitable but wanted to control it.

An Ecuadoran company, Canadros, approached the Indians' president, offering $2-million to develop tourism, agreeing, for instance, to build without nails so that when things rotted, they would return wholly to the earth. "They did not cut corners," Pearson said.

"They said they would teach the local people how to make beds and how to mix martinis and how to lead a nature tour, things they had not thought of," he said. "At the end of 15 years, the agreement says, the whole development will be turned over to the local people."

Don Montague, head of the 20-year-old South American Explorers Club, says a prime issue is how much of the tourist dollar goes to the local people. The club does not offer tours but distributes first-person reports on independent trips taken by its members.

Some of the reports are not circulated, Montague said, because the organization thinks some tribes and people should be visited only by anthropologists.

Regular membership in the club is $40 a year. Contact South American Explorers Club, 126 Indian Creek Road, Ithaca, NY 14850; (607) 277-0488; e-mail explorersamexplo.org; the Web site is http://www.samexplo.org.

A human rights organization, Survival International, with offices in London, Paris, Milan and Madrid, is preparing a publication listing a very few tribal communities that have organized to accommodate tourists while safeguarding their native lands and cultures. A spokesman in London, Richard Garside, estimates that 200 such community organizations exist, probably 100 of them in Australia.

One task the human rights group undertakes is monitoring the way a people is presented to the world. Isolated tribes that are advertised by tour operators as exotic or Stone Age survivors, he said, do not take long to catch on to what arriving tourists expect and thus may ornament themselves or invent rituals to earn money, jeopardizing their historic culture. For more information, contact Survival International, 11-15 Emerald St., London WC1N 3QL, England; (44-171) 242-1441.

The Eco-Tourism Society will provide a list of 60 to 80 member organizations on request; enclose a self-addressed envelope with two 32-cent stamps. Memberships cost $35 a year for an individual who does not want to be listed in the membership directory. The Eco-Tourism Society, P.O. Box 755, North Bennington, Vt. 05257; (802) 447-2121; e-mail, ecomailecotourism.org.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York and its Discovery Tours are on the society's list. Dick Houghton, a museum spokesman, said almost all of its 60 programs this year, including trips to Botswana, Ethiopia and the Rift Valley in the Middle East and Africa, are sold out. The catalog for 1998 has 46 tours.

Contact the American Museum of Natural History-Discovery Tours, Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024; (800) 462-8687.

Earthwatch, 25 years old, sends out volunteers to participate in various projects, from folklore to agriculture; the volunteers pay relatively stiff fees, which support the project and pay operating expenses for the non-profit Earthwatch. The catalog of projects may be seen on the Internet at http://www.earthwatch.org. One free catalog may be ordered by phone or mail. Membership, for $35 a year, brings catalogs and newsletters. Earthwatch, P.O. Box 9104, Watertown, MA 02272; (800) 776-0188; e-mail, info earthwatch.org.

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