Miller, Kassandra L. M.S., October 2008 Resource ConservationEvaluating Community-based Ecotourism in GuatemalaAdvisor: Jim BurchfieldCommunity-based ecotourism (CBE) has become the newest buzzword in developmentcircles for its purported ability to provide alternative income generation for families andincentives to protect natural resources. Organizations such as the World Bank, World WildlifeFederation and USAID have supported these small-scale projects across the globe. However,there has been much debate over the efficacy of these projects. They are often developed,managed, and even owned by NGOs, not by local communities. Economic benefits resultingfrom the project are often directed toward one or two people in prominent positions within thecommunity and not evenly distributed. The increase in use of natural areas due to ecotourismactivities can have more damage to the environment than had tourists never been introducedto the area at all. Community-based ecotourism, while conceptually promising, has facedbarriers that have been insurmountable in some cases.This thesis explores common elements of community-based ecotourism projectsthrough a case study of four projects distributed throughout Guatemala. These four casesrepresent different project design and management strategies, levels of communitymanagement and ownership, levels of involvement with NGOs and support from the localcommunity. Using criteria identified by William Hipwell (2007) in his research of Taiwanaboriginal ecotourism, I evaluate the efficacy of these cases. These criteria are (1) tourismactivities must be small enough to be managed solely by the community without outsidesupport; (2) a broad representation of community members must be actively involved in theproject; (3) the project must benefit the community as a whole; (4) the project must improvethe quality of life for community members across the board; (5) it must result in increasedawareness of conservation values; and (6) it should facilitate the maintenance or enhancementof the local culture.Through a combination of in-depth interviews, participant observation and documentreviews, this thesis argues that community-based ecotourism projects in Guatemala oftenstruggle even when meeting the criteria above. This occurs when the distribution of benefits isshared between too many community members so that the benefits are diluted. In order toincrease economic benefits under these situations, further emphasis must be placed onincreasing tourist numbers, which can lead to further environmental degradation andcommunity conflict. These projects also suffer from a lack of community capacity in the form of local leadership, which keeps them dependent on NGOs and outside organizations. I argue thatthe problems facing these and perhaps other, community-based ecotourism projects are due tothe lack of incentives for local leadership and a distribution of benefits too wide to truly benefitanyone. To remedy this, I offer the example of Plan Grande Quehueche as a model of small-scale ecotourism that equitably distributes benefits to an entire community and exemplifiesexcellent local leadership.