AECOTUR Manu - The Association of Manu Tour Operators

This memorandum described the role of tourism in the Manu National Park, before the relationship between the Peruvian Park Service (Sernanp) and the main tour operators run into legal trouble due to confirmed allegations of corruption on the part of former government officials:

In many respects the Manu provided a model for how tourism can support the conservation of a protected area. Key features of this model include:

  • Strict control of access by SERNANP, the Peruvian national park service. Collaboration of all the tourism operators through a joint association, Aecotur Manu, that allows a coordinated response to problems and interaction with the park service.

  • Financial payments made by tourists and tour operators that provide the government with the resources to conserve and manage the protected area.

Manu is one of the world's largest rainforest parks, and comprises the entire watershed of the Rio Manu, in the jungles of southeastern Peru.

Actually, tourism is limited to the lower Manu River basin within the Manu Park´s 1.7 million hectares. Less than 0.1% of the Park´s area is used by nature tourism.

Only scientists can enter the upper Manu River basin, and the only installation within this area is the scientific study site at Cocha Cashu. Access is controlled by two guard posts along the only access route, which is by boat along the Rio Manu.

A private consortium of tourism operators, Aecotur Manu, helps to restrict and co-ordinate tourism activities to ensure that they remain ecologically sustainable while providing significant economic benefits.

Aecotur Manu, formerly Ecotur Manu, was founded in 1991 as a civil non-profit organization. It is comprised of all firms that are licensed to operate tourism in the Manu lower basin. To operate in Manu you must be a legitimate company and have a license to operate there. The license requires the companies to have good conduct, and must be renewed every year with the Ministry of Industry and Tourism and presented to the National Park Service, SERNANP.

The focus of tourism in the Manu is to maintain a high-quality experience, to keep numbers relatively low, and to have high economic value of each tourist. There are no official limits on the number of tourists to go into Manu, but SERNANP controls access to the Manu by requiring that all tourists entering the Manu Reserved Zone be accompanied by an official guide with a license; guides must be sponsored by a certified Manu tour operator who takes responsibility on the guides good conduct. Guides must also take an annual exam to keep their license.

The principle function of Aecotur Manu is to ensure that tourism activities are sustainable within the Manu. Historically, Ecotur Manu received the first grant of the PROFONANPE fund created with the support of the Global Environment Facility and others to do a study of the environmental impact of tourists at Manu, which they accomplished with Duke and Princeton Universities. The second function is to require good practices. All companies must abide by rules, such as having two motors in each boat, adequate life savers, that radios are at each tourist camping site or lodge. There is also a maximum ratio of 1 guide per 10 tourists, although some members maintain a lower ratio.

Another objective is to promote an increase of tourism in the Manu in an organized way that does not deteriorate the environment. Aecotur Manu is currently addressing issues such as garbage disposal, and the links with the Machiguenga indigenous communities within the park, so that they can also benefit from eco-tourism.

The economics of tourism, and payments to the government park service

Tourism is the main economic activity carried out in the park, and contributes economic resources to the national park agency that exceed the costs of operating the park. Tourism in Manu had been growing at 23% a year, although the number of tourists traveling inside of the protected Manu National Park lowlands has not surpassed 3,000 visitors per year.

These generated gross expenditures of over $2,000 per person, resulting in a gross total of $8 million dollars associated with tourism in Manu.

The average tour package in Manu costs $794, and an average of 6.5 nights are spent in Manu. In contrast, the Tambopata area received over 31,724 tourists in the year 2,000 (source: Statistics Office, Ministry of Tourism and Industry), while generating $9 million in revenues.

The average package in the Tambopata area costs $286, and the average tourist spends 2.5 nights there.

At least another 8-10,000 tourists visit other lodges outside of the Manu Park. Most of these lodges are operated by local people or indigenous communities. It is necessary to make a big effort in the short term to rationalize the tourism activities outside of the Reserve.

Although nobody can deny its beneficial impact on the local economy, and that the Manu Biosphere Reserve reputation is "spilling" outside its official boundaries. Because of this local authorities are now very vocal demanding the centralized government in Lima to allow the monies generated by tourism in Manu to remain within the local municipalities.

The income from tourism in the Reserved Zone is sufficient to fully support the operations of the National Park Service to manage and administer the entire park. (At current standards) As shown in the paragraphs below, tourism in Manu, before the generates approximately $200,000 in fees that are paid directly to SERNANP.

This amount is far more than the annual budget of SERNANP for the entire Manu Park, which is only between $50,000 and $70,000. INRENA has a budget process that records income and allocate each park's budget, but each park budget is not necessarily related to the amount of fees received by that park. The separate fees generated by tourist activities that are payable to SERNANP or used for conservation purposes are:

  • a) Each tourist must pay an entry fee of about $ 50 to enter the Manu National Park. In addition Park authorities are asking to pay a further $15 per person for the use of infrastructure in the Manu National Park. In this past year there were almost 3,000 tourists in the Manu, which results in about $ 150,000 in fees to INRENA. The fee was raised in 1999 from $10 to $50 per person, promoted in large part by the Aecotur Manu firms, who wanted adequate infrastructure in the park and vigilance of the parkguards.

  • b) The companies also each must pay fees to AECOTUR for their facilities. Manu Lodge, and its owner paid a concession fee to SERNANP of 5% of gross income from the lodge. In addition, each company pays approximately $9,000 per year to INRENA in concession fee for their tented camps at the two lakes in the Manu National Park, Salvador and Otarongo. Each company has one campsite which has tented camps on platforms.

  • c) Any special use rights, such as for filming within the parks, etc., has fees associated with them which are paid to SERNANP.

  • d) In addition to the above fees, which are paid to SERNANP, a special fund was created in 1999 as an agreement between Ecotur Manu and INRENA for park tourism infrastructure maintenance. In order to take money out of the fund, there must be the signature of the chief of SERNANP-Manu and the president of Aecotur Manu.

The revenues from the fund are collected at a cost of $1 from each tourist, and are placed by the companies in this fund. This has been invested in maintenance of trails, piers, observation platforms and canoes at the two lakes where the companies have their camping sites.