Enhancing community-based eco-tourism enterprises to strengthen financial sustainability conservation in the Maya Golden Landscape of Southern Belize

Published: 25 May 2023
Last edited: 25 May 2023
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Ya’axche Conservation Trust has been empowering communities and conserving wildlife in Belize for 25 years. The Maya Golden Landscape (MGL) of southern Belize is the area of work. The MGL encompasses an area of 275,000ha. It forms a part of the Maya Mountain Massif and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, critical for the maintenance of the area's biodiversity.


Ya’axche faced the constant challenge of a lack of sustainable financing. This meant that Ya’axche would need to reduce its donor dependency and increase flexible revenue via innovative and sustainable ideas. As a result, Ya’axché instituted a sustainable finance mechanism for effective PA management through Ya’axché Institute for Conservation Education (YICE).  


Ya’axche has yet to achieve full financial sustainability. However, through YICE and its 2 revenue streams, Ecotourism Belize and the Nursery, 4 women's groups have improved their livelihoods and 8%-10% of Ya’axche’s conservation work has been financed. 


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Ecosystem services
Forest Management
Gender mainstreaming
Indigenous people
Infrastructure maintenance
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Sustainable development goals
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


Golden Stream, Toledo, Belize
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Lack of Financial Sustainability: Ya’axché’s funding mix heavily leans on restricted grant funding. Developing a consistent stream of flexible income has been slow. This has been a major challenge to becoming sustainable in the long term. 


Inadequate operational resources: ETB doesn't operate at capacity and the current business model relies on Ya’axche’s human and capital resources. While this kick-started the conservation business enterprise and has contributed to reducing the financial gap of Ya’axche, the business requires its own resources to make it profitable and sustainable.  


Limited capacity of women in ecotourism: The indigenous women of the eco-tourism enterprises, from the partner communities, mostly focused on making crafts and had limited knowledge of hosting visitors. While they became organized, registered, and diversified their products and services, they lacked the know-how to deliver them.  


Beneficiaries included 19 women from four (4) women-led enterprises from the buffering communities of the protected area GSCP. Other members of the buffering communities also benefited through short-term employment via construction services. 

How do the building blocks interact?

The performance of the sustainable financing initiative of Ya’axche at its nascent stage is a result of an integrated business plan based on evidence and experience, coupled with heavy networking to secure long-term business partnerships, both locally and internationally. These two building blocks were reinforced by creating an enabling environment to conduct business operations via investment in infrastructure and specific capacity building and training. All three blocks contribute to improved protected areas management where biodiversity and ecosystems are safeguarded for the benefit of all.   


Enhanced management effectiveness of protected areas: Investment into EcoTourism Belize via infrastructure development and equipment facilitated the increase in hosting capacity by 40%-50%,  increased its flexible revenue, and strengthened its financial sustainability to support sustainable conservation in the MGL. The business contributed between 8%-10% of revenue to the annual operations of Ya’axche.  


Increased Conservation of Protected Areas:  GSCP functions as a biological corridor at the core of the MGL, protecting ecosystems and species for the benefit of indigenous communities. Ya’axche’s 2020 State of the Protected Area Report has indicated that the PAs managed have retained between 97%-99.8% of their land mass under natural vegetation. This can be attributed to Ya’axche's effective management approach and increase in sustainable financing.


Strengthened partnerships with communities: For effective management of resources and protected areas, Ya’axché has strengthened its relationship with its stakeholder communities and local business enterprises, contributing to the improved management of natural resources and promotion of conservation. As an example,  4 women-led groups reinforced their eco-enterprises and business models contributing financially to their households and community an average of $8000USD/year.



The Indian Creek Maya Art’s Women’s group started its operations in 2011 and is a formally registered business. The group comprises of 8 young Q‘eqchi’ Maya women ages 19 to 45 years. The members are very vibrant, resilient, and adaptable, which has allowed them to remain in existence over the years.  The group provides unique, transformative cultural experiences to visitors in southern Belize. Through their micro-enterprise, the group offers services and goods such as cultural tours, souvenirs, and traditional Maya food catering.  


The Indian Creek Maya Art’s Women’s group with assistance provided through Eco-Tourism Belize, part of Ya’axche’s sustainable financing initiative, has been provided with strategic capacity building that has strengthened the key skills needed for the successful management of their micro-enterprises. These sessions ranged from leadership skills, conflict management, customer service, and hospitality training.  


As a result of their enhanced skills, the group has been able to provide greater quality products and services to student groups, researchers, and independent travelers. Over the last 2 years, after generating greater income from their business, the women are now able to contribute a combined $6,500USD of additional income to their households. Their self-confidence and sense of empowerment have now grown to where they are becoming strong voices and influential within their community.  


Most of the resources that the group’s business depends on – crafts, tours and traditional practices – come from the forest. However, climate change and deforestation are threatening the way of life for women and their families. To help protect forests, the group proactively participated in training on conservation, sustainable resource use practice, product development, and business plan development. These strong business-minded women are now more sensitized on the importance of biodiversity conservation and are stewards of their resources. 

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Ivanny Hernandez Ya'axché Conservation Trust

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Ya'axche Conservation Trust