Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2019

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John Van Buren


Ecotourism has been hailed as a way for indigenous communities to conserve biodiversity, promote environmental education, and drive economic development in exotic destination areas. In practice, ecotourism has often failed to meet its intended goals. Utilizing a case study of indigenous Mapuche communities in Chile’s Coast of Carahue, where ecotourism infrastructure is emerging but still largely underdeveloped, this thesis examines the potential for ecotourism to be used as a tool for sustainable development, environmental conservation, and socio-political empowerment. It examines the complex interaction of factors involved in local indigenous ecotourism development, and assesses how these factors shape the ability of indigenous ecotourism to meet its intended goals. Chapter 1 uses quantitative data on the global ecotourism industry to examine ecotourism’s positive and negative impacts on indigenous communities as well as its reliance on ecosystem services. Chapter 2 employs ecology to analyze the role of the community’s surrounding wetland as a crucial component in local ecotourism development and environmental conservation. Chapter 3 engages politics to discuss interactions between key actors involved in ecotourism development, and to examine the roles of various levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and community stakeholders in the implementation of ecotourism programs. Chapter 4 incorporates anthropology to discuss the use of ecotourism to solidify Mapuche cultural identity and improve relations with broader Chilean society. Chapter 5 discusses policy recommendations for government, community, and other stakeholders involved in ecotourism development.