Community tourism: sustenance of small communities

For years, tourism has been an important source of income for the Dominican Republic. However, although it is often suggested that these currencies remain in the predetermined destinations due to their capacity to receive tourists, this sector has become the livelihood of small towns thanks to the so-called community tourism, a modality that is gaining ground at the national level. One example is El Palero, in Cenoví de Toma, southeast of Santiago Rodríguez.

At the foothills of the Pico de Gallo, Los Mones, Sierrecita and Loma Vieja mountains, which paint a landscape very different from the paradisiacal Dominican beaches, this demarcation, with a little more than 480 inhabitants, has learned to diversify its economic pillars, from coffee to citrus fruits and more recently, small lodgings. The community has led the effort to take advantage of the rural area’s tourism potential and create employment opportunities.

Marcial Collado, a resident of the rural area who is leading the initiative, told elDinero that tourism offers an opportunity to generate employment and avoid the migration of young people to the cities in search of job opportunities.

Dynamization

The initiative arose to take advantage of the community’s natural and cultural resources to attract visitors. Collado mentioned that the owner of Casa de Campo Los Soñadores, known as Lucecita (Elvia Hernández), was one of the pioneers in the creation of lodgings for tourists, inspiring others to follow her example. This is how they formed a committee to develop community tourism.

“Here people come and want to have somewhere to go,” added Hernández, owner of the 23-person lodging, among those traveling as a group, family or couple. Although it started in 2019, it wasn’t until 2021 when they formally opened to local and international travelers.

Since then, the place has received tourists from different parts of the world, such as Germany or Spain, in addition to Dominicans looking to explore hiking. “A lot of people have come who you wouldn’t have thought would come here,” she says, surprised by the boom in visits. “They come for the environment, the fresh air, having lots of trees and the tranquility,” she added.

Casa Paraíso Serrano

Casa Paraíso Serrano is another example of a project that seeks to encourage community tourism. “Our proposal is for families who want to connect with nature and create moments together. At Casa Paraíso, we have all the comforts of home. We are a house, a home that supports community tourism,” explained Orfelina Rodríguez Durán, owner.

Although it is still a community that is venturing empirically, “moved by passion, but confident”, the statistics of visits are in their favor, as they claim that they must, at times, self-book months in advance and are constantly booked.

“This is a two-level house, which has five bedrooms. It is a vacation rental project focused on mountain tourism to create experiences with the community. It is a project that is oriented to connect the community and rural life,” Rodriguez added.

These are just two of several investments being made by locals. Other projects are being built on the top of the mountain with direct views of Pico del Gallo, such as Ecocamping Aventura, or on the banks of a river, such as Glamping Vista del Rio.

The commitment of these entrepreneurs to community-based tourism is reflected in the formalization of the initiative, with the creation of Palero Eco Aventura as a legally established organization. All lodge owners in the area are members of this organization.

Community

This commitment to community-based tourism does not only benefit those with more resources. In fact, the entire community is intertwined to boost and energize the local economy. While some offer lodging, others are in charge of covering the other needs of tourists, from transportation to food and recreation that includes singers, guides and reciters of tenths or poems.

In fact, the boom in community tourism has allowed the development of infrastructure in the locality, in the absence of government authorities. One of the most outstanding initiatives is the creation of a park where the community gathers for cultural activities. Collado explained that the park was built with recycled materials, including plastic bottles and rubber, in collaboration with a local NGO.

Support for local businesses

The food, although it can be prepared by visitors, is invited to support local enterprises. One example is Francesca Vidal, owner of the parador Las Muchachitas. “We bet on the parador because there was nothing here where you could eat something. If you came 28 kilometers this way, you would arrive hungry, as they say, based on chips and juice. So many people, as well as many tourists, come to Palero, but they stop here for lunch,” he said.

From the restaurant itself to the lodgings, they make their purchases directly in the community, which produces lemons, coffee and other products. “We all help each other. If the group is large, as there have been groups of 30 people, we look for more collaborators. In that case, it is not just one woman who cooks, but three,” explains Lucecita. This dynamization extends to the tour guides.

Turismo ComunitarioWaldy Tineo, owner of Ecocamping Aventura, highlights the focus of his business on the community, ensuring that each area has local employees. From food production to music, he supports local entrepreneurs, offering them business opportunities.

Projects such as Ecocamping Aventura not only promote tourism, but also support local entrepreneurs who offer authentic products and services. With a team of collaborators from the area, who are not considered employees, these lodges promote the economic and social development of their community, creating an environment of collaboration and mutual support. There are more than two dozen volunteers who collaborate as guides and facilitators, including housewives who cook for visitors.

“This is an extremely daring community to invest in, to create, to move towards,” Rodriguez added. From 4×4 transportation or Safari, to home gardens to supply local needs.

Challenges

While El Palero, and other communities in the Cenoví de Toma area, southeast of Santiago Rodríguez presents a variety of attractions for tourists seeking destinations or activities such as hiking, it also presents significant challenges due to the difficult state of the road, which requires all-terrain vehicles.

This difficulty has led to the cancellation of reservations by some visitors, which represents a major obstacle for businesses. In addition, the age of the aqueduct, which is over 25 years old, contributes to occasional water shortages, while electricity supply has been a “conquest” after a wait of almost 10 years.

For the entrepreneurs behind the projects, the condition of the road represents a major weakness, as many clients express that the beauty of the projects contrasts with the difficulty of the journey to get there.

They say they hope that the provincial authorities will address this weakness and not turn it into a strength. Despite these challenges, they highlight the entrepreneurial capacity that emerges even in precarious conditions, such as the case of a young man from the community who offers transportation services with an all-terrain vehicle. However, the lack of integration of the local government with the province’s tourism entrepreneurs poses an additional obstacle to tourism development in the region.

“Glamping”.

With capacity for 22 people in the glamping area and 11 in the camping area, Glamping Vista del Rio emerged to promote community tourism inspired by the natural environment and the need to offer comfort in the countryside. This project is integrated with the cassava route and other community tourism initiatives in the area.

Alexis Cruz, owner, together with Félix Manuel, administrator, explain that the project not only seeks to attract tourists, but also to benefit the local community. By integrating people from the area into the business value chain, an estimated 12 to 15 families are indirectly impacted, which contributes to the economic development of the region.

In addition, Glamping Vista del Río offers activities such as safaris and tours of the community, providing visitors with a complete and authentic experience. With the rise of sustainable tourism and the search for unique experiences, this new project is positioned as an attractive option for those who wish to connect with nature and local culture.

Offer

The locality has natural attractions suitable for the whole family. The closest and most easily accessible waterfall, Los bañaderos, is located 2.3 kilometers from El Palero Ecological Park, which is still under construction and a 30-minute walk away.

The more extreme Andrea and La Maravilla waterfalls are 4.0 kilometers and 4.3 kilometers away, respectively, and take two hours to reach. There is also the cassava route, which starts in the municipality of Mención, passes through the province of Santiago Rodríguez and ends in the Central Mountain Range.

Source:Mitur.gob.do

Know More: Destinations, Tourism

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Dominican Republic Live Editor

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