History of the TEA

The Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA) was founded in 1990 by a group of Toledo District Mayas and Garifunas. The local residents wanted to become involved in tourism in their villages and were looking for a way to improve their incomes through these types of activities. With the assistance of a local hotel proprietor, William "Chet" Schmidt, a series of eight community-sponsored free workshops on ecotourism were held. The three main objectives of these workshops were:

  • To examine the effects of uncontrolled mass tourism on other countries and places, similar to Toledo District, and what destructive cultural and environmental impact it had.
  • To examine what controlled "eco" or responsible tourism is all about, looking at examples of places similar to Belize, such as Costa Rica and other Caribbean islands, where they have turned destructive mass tourism into profitable ecotourism.
  • To examine possible ways and means whereby the Belizean citizens of Toledo can better control mass tourism and develop profitable ecotourism.

During the final phase of the workshop many suggestions were presented by the local people as to how best to develop and take advantage of the many benefits of ecotourism. The group agreed to develop the TEA in order to enable the local people involved to directly plan, control and profit from ecotourism and other benefits in their areas. This program would distribute the economic opportunities and benefits to all within the village who wanted to and could participate. The next step was to ask for permission from the Alcalde (local Mayan authority in the village) and their village chairmen (local political authority) to form a village ecotourism group to build the guesthouse and develop the ecotrail program. Laguna was the first village to complete construction on their guesthouse and currently there are five operational guesthouses and five other villages where the guesthouse needs to be repaired but they still take day trips. Please see TEA Villages for information on where you can stay.

TEA Philosophy

When tourists arrive at the TEA office in Punta Gorda, each village has an equal chance to receive guests. Once a village has received a group, it waits its turn until all of the other villages have received visitors. If visitors have a preference as to which adventure, activity or village they would like to partake in, then the rotation schedule can be adjusted to accommodate their preferences. Preferred villages then give up their next turn in the rotation. In this way the income from tourism is shared and so is the impact.

Within each village various families participate in the guesthouse program by preparing meals, attending the guesthouse, serving as guides and teachers, and in some cases performing music, dance and storytelling. Once a family has performed a service they take another turn only after every other family in the village has taken their turn so the benefits are shared as equally as possible. In this manner, families do not become overworked or overexposed to tourism. The experience remains a novelty for families and tourists alike. Rotations spread the benefits around the community so everyone can work in the tourism trade without sacrificing their own activities.

The TEA pursues an holistic approach, which integrates tourism, the impact that it has on the local culture and environment, and sustainable development. Ecotourism in this area is not supposed to replace the prevailing subsistence farming economy but is designed as a means to supplement the local people's income.