Masters Thesis

Planning for Ecotourism Development in Panama: Using Government Policy and Spatial Analysis to Optimize Ecotourism Success

Tourism is an informal way that developing countries are able to enter into the global economy. Ecotourism, the fastest growing sector of this industry, is an economic development tool that also seeks to achieve social development, and environmental preservation. the tourism industry in Panama is relatively new and therefore has significant potential for failure or success, in social and environmental terms, depending on whether or not it chooses to become sustainable. Proper planning for ecotourism as opposed to commercial tourism needs to happen before huge international investors take advantage of Panama’s efforts to become relevant in the global economy. Using geographical-spatial analysis and Panamanian government publications, I argue that Panama has considerable potential for ecotourism development. the components of successful ecotourism are identified and used to create a spatial analysis development tool as well as geographical maps. through these buffer analysis maps, I identify the best locations for future successful ecotourism development based on tourist convenience and proximity to existing amenities—transportation hubs, unique attractions inherent in nature reserves, and other resources. Because lax governmental standards and regulations have historically allowed for some unsustainable mass commercial developments, improved adherence to ecotourism standards, by developers and tourists alike, is important for future sustainability of the industry in the beautiful country of Panama.

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