What is a community tour operator?  Community tour operators are owned and operated by local communities. They hire local guides, contract with local hotels and restaurants and, ultimately, keep much of the income generated by travelers like you within local economy.  The best local tour operators are ones who engage in environmentally and culturally conscious practices as a way to keep their communities clean and World Heritage sites pristine and healthy.

Why use a community tour operator?  Tourism is a remarkable engine of the global economy, but too often local communities do not benefit from tourism revenues.  By choosing environmentally-conscious community tour operators, you ensure that your tourist dollars benefit local citizens and their environments.  Community tour operators also enrich your travel experience by giving you a first-hand introduction to cultures and customs in the places you visit.

All countries that have signed the UNESCO World Heritage Convention have agreed to support local communities and recognize the important role they play in preserving World Heritage sites. Show your support by signing the Responsible Travel Pledge and booking with local community tour operators on your next vacation. To learn more about UNESCO’s perspective on World Heritage and communities, click here.

Expedia Employees Volunteer in Sian Ka'an
Spanning 1.3 million acres of tropical ecosystems in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Sian Ka’an is Mexico’s largest protected natural marine area, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visitors to Sian Ka’an - Mayan for “where the sky is born” – can explore a portion of the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef, observe any of the 350 species of birds or 800 varieties of plants that make their home in the reserve. The reserve is also home to 23 pre-Columbian Mayan archaeological sites and hundreds of Mayan families.

Community Tours Sian Ka’an (CTSK) - an alliance between three Mayan-owned tour operators - is committed to providing ecologically sustainable tourism, which distinguishes it from other tour operators in the reserve. The members of Community Tours Sian Ka’an arrange tours, employ local guides, and contract with local hotels and restaurants. CTSK’s high quality product offerings have won it international acclaim—in 2006, it made the Condè Nast “Green List,” and in 2007 it was named an Equator Prize finalist.

Why is this critical? Many challenges - including coastal development, over-fishing, and damage to the coral reefs - threaten this fragile ecosystem. Furthermore, in spite of the massive increase in tourism over the past decade, the local people, most of whom are indigenous Mayan, have not benefited directly.

Traveling with Community Tours Sian Ka’an will allow much of the income generated by your business to remain – and be reinvested - within local communities. To learn more and sign up for a tour, click here.
Spotlight on La Ruta Moskitia
The largest remaining tract of natural forest in Honduras is the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve – encompassing over 2,000 square miles. Among the largest intact rainforests in Central America, the Rio Plátano World Heritage site is home to at least 377 species of birds, 126 reptiles and amphibians, and 39 mammals, including such rare or endangered species as the scarlet macaw, giant anteater, jaguar, and leatherback turtle. It is also home to four disztinct indigenous groups - the Miskito, Garifuna, Pech and Tawahka tribes - each with their own unique language and traditions.

The La Ruta Moskitia Ecotourism Alliance consists of six indigenous communities that provide ecotourism products and services within the Reserve. 100% of La Ruta Moskitia's services are community-owned and operated - which means all of the financial benefits go directly to local communities. Not only do your tourism dollars benefit local communities, visitors help make a long-term investment as ten percent of the revenues from every tour is dedicated to fund local conservation projects. In 2006, La Ruta Moskitia earned a space on Condè Nast’s “Green List,” a round up of the world's best sustainable tourism ventures. To learn more and sign up for a tour, click here.


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Expedia, Inc. is one of the world's leading travel services companies. With its portfolio of leading travel brands, Expedia, Inc. empowers business and leisure travelers with the tools and information they need to easily research, plan, book and experience travel. The company also provides wholesale travel to offline retail travel agents. Expedia, Inc.'s main businesses and brands include:®,™, Hotwire®, Expedia® Corporate Travel, Trip Advisor™ and Classic Vacations™. Expedia, Inc.’s companies also operate internationally with sites in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands and China, through its investment in eLong™.

The UN Foundation is a public charity created in 1998 with philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic gift of $1 billion to support UN causes. It is the world’s largest private supporter of World Heritage. Since 1999, the UN Foundation has contributed more than $40 million, and catalyzed an additional $150 million, in support of World Heritage conservation and sustainable development in the developing world.

World Heritage Centre at UNESCO

For more than 30 years, UNESCO and its partners have worked through the World Heritage Centre to identify, assess and protect places of outstanding universal value. To date, 184 countries have adhered to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, making it one of the most universal international legal instruments for the protection of cultural and natural heritage. Whilst fully respecting the national sovereignty, the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention recognize that the protection of our World Heritage is the duty of the international community as a whole. There are currently 851 properties including 660 cultural, 166 natural and 25 mixed properties in 184 countries.

© Friends of World Heritage