A ban on swimming in crystalline rivers when wearing sun cream to avoid contaminating the water, wooden bridges to cross lush forests without disturbing the ecosystem…the tourism authorities of Mato Grosso do Sol enforce strict rules to preserve natural sites, and do so with the intention of becoming the star pupils on the international playground of ecotourism.
A remote El Dorado
Mato Grosso do Sol was created in 1977 after being split from the larger state of Mato Grosso. Located in the far corners of Brazil bordering Bolivia and Paraguay, it has witnessed a strong economic boom since the government developed the road system in the 1960s. It became an El Dorado for whomever wished to try their luck in Brazil: opening a business with little competition, finding cheap land, living far from the dangers of big cities, etc.
“We are a new country with a vast potential of natural resources that we intend to optimize through ecotourism,” explains Carlos Portos, head of the State Tourist Foundation. Indeed, in the south, low mountains are replete with caves offering countless options for speleological expeditions, rivers and tropical waterfalls ideal for swimming as well as forests enabling hikers to be in close contact with nature. In the north, the Pantanal swamp, classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986, is one of the richest natural reserves in the world. Relatively recent human colonization – some cities are hardly ten years old – explains the purity of the sites.
Ecotourism, a well thought-out tourist development
Ecotourism provides a win-win strategy. According to Marcos Cesar Lomba, professor in the economics of tourism, “We promote responsible tourism out of common sense. We want to make long-lasting use of our potential which we know is fragile: there are too many players of tourism overexploiting their resources without giving thought to what they will live on tomorrow! But in addition, our original approach procures us greater visibility on the markets. Our approach is its own publicity. Unlike other regions with substantial advertising budgets, we belong to a virtuous circle in which the money spent on the land enables us to increase the credibliity of our approach, thus creating a reputation for ourselves that is consistent with our values.”
The sites are located in very remote areas of the country and their stability is a source of regular income for hotels. It is therefore in the interest of the owners to ensure sustainable economical development. The number of visitors per day is often restricted to reduces disruptions. Tourists who wish to enter certain rivers must first take a shower in the basins specifically designed for this purpose to prevent sun creams and mosquito repellents from spreading in the waters. Fishing and hunting are also strictly regulated activities. Environmental patrol makes rounds to enforce the rules. Penalties are heavy and fishing without a license is punishable by imprisonment.
Infrastructures to minimize their ecological footprint
Architects have often known how to use local obstacles – sites difficult to access to import materials, wastes to collect, sites to connect to regional phone and electricity networks, etc. – to their advantage in order to promote environmentally-friendly architecture that minimizes the burden of these activities on town taxes. Design materials are biodegradable (sustainably managed wood, straws, leaves) and paints are free of heavy metals to avoid harmful discharge. With solar energy, significant electrical wiring can be eliminated. Sorting and recycling wastes on sites creates local employment and prevents towns from having to develop dedicated collection services. This approach yields profits for the region. Admission tickets are usually two to ten times more expensive than in the rest of the country but the higher prices are explained on signs listing the actions thus financed: reinforced security, more educational activity, better site protection.
In Mato Grosso do Sol, populations are often of European and Indian descent. They have inherited from Europeans a certain sense of productively exploiting resources and from Indians a boundless respect for nature with which we must live symbiotically. Ecotourism has the advantage of being a type of economic development in harmony with the culture of the populations.
Au Brésil, un exemple de développement touristique éco-responsable
Novethic, March 24th, 2004