Panama commits to bringing travel back better with launch of PACT – Panama Alliance for Community Tourism

New initiative designed to improve well-being of residents, visitors and the environment

This week the Panama Government, in partnership with the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO), Fundación Natura, and non-profit Planeterra, the global leader in community tourism enterprise development, announced a joint venture to work with communities across Panama to build community tourism experiences that improve the well-being of residents, visitors, and the environment, celebrating the natural beauty and must-have cultural experiences the country offers. 

The new partnership aims to reposition Panama as a destination focused on incredible cultural immersion experiences for travellers that leave a positive footprint on the country in terms of supporting local people and businesses, and ensures traveller dollars stay in-destination. 

“The launch of the Panama Alliance for Community Tourism (PACT) is a major break-through in the implementation of Panama’s Sustainable Tourism Master Plan”, explained Ivan Eskildsen, the Panamanian Minister of Tourism. 

“In our Master Plan, we have prioritized the development of tourism experiences focused on the ‘discerning traveler’, a global trend that is demanding more and more authentic experiences that benefit local communities, and their surrounding environment. We are excited that PACT will accelerate the implementation of this strategy, with local and global partners that will help Panama consolidate world-class community tourism experiences, that showcase the extraordinary wealth of our natural and cultural heritage.”

The partners involved in the PACT initiative plan to work closely with at least 10 communities and their tourism enterprises in order to assist them with income diversification, product development, and customer service. Long-term sustainability will be a focus for the initiative’s pilot projects, which will include training local counterparts in Planeterra’s highly successful community-led tourism development methodology and local communities in all aspects of the tourism value chain, including business planning, regenerative agriculture and resiliency building in order to ensure each community is set up for success.  

“Planeterra is excited to work with APTSO, Fundación Natura and the Ministry of Tourism to launch this groundbreaking community tourism initiative,” says Jamie Sweeting, president of Planeterra. 

“We look forward to bringing Planeterra’s proven approach to empowering community-led tourism to Panama and, in the process, strengthening local partners to lead this initiative forward.”

“The PACT partners share a vision for using proven solutions to put host communities at the heart of tourism in Panama,” explained Annie Young, president of the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO). “Through close collaboration, we can achieve the goals of  the Tourism Vision 2025 of the Panama  Sustainable Tourism Master Plan and become globally recognized as a world-class sustainable tourism destination while supporting the wellbeing of our communities.”

For more information, please visit  and


About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. It is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip and was started with the purpose of connecting underserved communities to opportunities in the travel industry. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit

Media Enquiries

For media enquiries, please reach out to:

Alanna Wallace
Program & Communications Manager

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New year, New Travellers, More Impact!

2020 is the year that Planeterra is working to complete Project 100, by having 100 Planeterra Projects on travel itineraries by the end of the year.

For some of our project partners, it is their first time working with international travellers, the first time some of the project’s employees have ever had a job outside of their home, the first time they are able to have a job in the community in which they live so they don’t have to move to the bigger cities to earn an income. It’s at this moment that turning travel into impact comes to fruition!

Here is a rundown of the projects that received their very first travellers this month and how these initiatives are already making a huge impact on the community, the traveller or the project partner.

Domari Culture and Craft Experience, Israel


The Dom (Gypsy) community face regular discrimination as a marginalized group in Israel, and the Domari Society was created to tackle this issue and empower the community.  At the Domari Culture and Craft Experience, travellers will get to enjoy traditional Domari food as well as learn about the culture and shop at the local shop. 

“[I was] touched by her story and wish the host all the best in fulfilling her dreams of helping her community.” – Traveller

Mesilou Atamis Homestay, Malaysia


Mesilou Atamis Homestay (MAH), known as the “Highest and Coldest Homestay in Malaysia” also had their first travellers visit this month. This is the first time the Mesilou community is welcoming international tourists to their community, and the tourism enterprise is benefitting over 23 families.

The first group visited this project this month and thoroughly enjoyed their stay. Many of the travellers decided to add on an optional activity and did the Maragang Hill trek led by the MAH members, spreading even more income into the community.


Together We Earn, India

Together We Earn works to create opportunities for women in India. Ten women are employed and for many of them, it is the first time they have held a job outside of the home, and the first time they have earned their own money. Travellers will get the opportunity to eat traditional Alapphuza cuisine and get immersed in the local culture. 

Travellers visited TWE earlier this month and the travellers reported perfect (5/5) scores for their experience!


Libaran Island Community Tourism, Malaysia

Being a remote island, there is little economic opportunity for those who live on Libaran Island. Additionally, this community is home to the nesting site of endangered sea turtles in which the local people take great pride. It is important for the community to have the ability to earn sustainable livelihoods so they can stay on the island and steward this fragile environment.   

Visitors to Libaran Island Community Tourism have the opportunity to learn about the knowledge and culture of the island through activities such as pandanous (plant fibre) weaving, making of local snacks, demonstration of traditional fishing nets and upcycling of plastic bottles into souvenirs. 


Baracoa Community Tour, Cuba


Planeterra began working together with several family-owned micro-enterprises in the area to create Baracoa Community Tour for travellers as a way to bring economic opportunities to a rural area! 

Travellers have the opportunity to learn from local guides, participate in local living experiences and make some traditional delicacies. The day also includes a visit to a cacao farm, trying local food by women in the community, learning about a project working to preserve some of Cuba’s unique species, and having the chance to purchase unique handicrafts, all supporting women, men and youth of this community.

Lusumpuko Women’s Club, Zimbabwe


Lusumpuko Women’s Club was in tours last year, but because of the success of their cooking demonstration and meal with travellers, G Adventures added Lusumpuko Women’s Club to additional travel itineraries, more than doubling the number of customers for their club.  With the increase in customers, the cooperative has hired ten new members who will now receive income from the tourism industry in Victoria Falls. Travellers have enjoyed this local experience for more than a year and we can’t wait for more travellers to experience it!

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers enjoying all of the new projects. The count down is on until Project 100 is completed and we cannot do it without you, let’s keep turning travel into impact!

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Across Southern Africa, there are tourism experiences that promise to educate and inspire visitors about the Indigenous San – the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, and truly the original inhabitants of Planet Earth. A fascinating culture, the San are the earliest hunter-gatherers, having once lived across large areas of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and beyond.

As is true with most Indigenous people, their way of life, their knowledge, languages and culture have all been threatened first by colonialism, and nowadays by the legacy that colonialism has left behind – a lack of economic empowerment and opportunity, which leaves the San isolated.

Having lived in South Africa, and returning regularly in my capacity as Program Manager for Planeterra, I was well acquainted with tourism experiences – from lodges to museums – that attempted to celebrate the San.

But few have the power of Dqae Qare San Lodge. Owned freehold by the Indigenous community of D’Kar through the Kuru Development Trust, this wildlife reserve, campsite and lodge is a special and unique place. It provides full-time employment for 12 members of the D’Kar community and part-time work for over 40 more. With many in the community living on about 30 cents a day, these jobs are truly changing lives. One Dqae Qare employee is able to support a family of ten back in D’Kar.

Visiting Dqae Qare

The authenticity and power of the lodge hits visitors almost immediately. As I arrived on my first visit in February of 2018, I stepped out of my truck to find San community members bustling about the property. An employee drives past in a work vehicle filled with other employees on their way to a maintenance job near the campsite, a young San woman is setting the table under a thatched roof for dinner, and another greets me and checks me in at the lodge’s reception. I book the activities I want to partake in with her, and she happily leads me to my room. There’s a sense of purpose and passion behind every employee, and the feeling is palpable.

Later that day, I’m greeted by Dinah and Xgaiga, who take me out on a bushwalk to show me how the San have hunted, gathered food, and used the sometimes harsh Kalahari environment to their benefit. The San employees at Dqae Qare can identify more than 80 plants and their medicinal uses – it seems like every five steps we take, Xgaiga halts to point out a tree or a bush that has a practical use – this one protects you from snakes as you sleep, the bark of this tree can be boiled in water to cure colds and its leaves can be eaten to relieve a stomach ache.

In the evening, there is a storytelling and dance. Community members from nearby flood to the big bonfire in front of the lodge, and Xgaiga begins a story, told entirely in Naro. Everyone listens intently, the travellers around me lean in when Dinah starts her translation, in anticipation but also to warm ourselves by the fire. The story is about how the dog became man’s friend, while the jackal remains wild. Dancing ensues, and community members and travellers alike join in a circle around the flames.

It dawns on me how profound it is to experience the San practicing their culture, on land that they own outright themselves. Indigenous people around the world struggle to regain lands taken from them and to practice traditions that were even made illegal. It’s so important that places such as the Dqae Qare San Lodge are preserved, and helping it grow is a task Planeterra has been dedicated to since this first visit.

The prosperity of the lodge has a direct correlation with the development of the D’Kar community and the employment of its people. The more Planeterra can invest in the infrastructure of the lodge, the more profit Dqae Qare can invest straight into the community projects they’re dedicated to providing – like support for the area’s schools, churches, and even a clean water project taken on by the Kuru Development Trust. This GivingTuesday, we’re asking for support to help with upgrades to the lodge so Dqae Qare can continue to grow, employ more community members from D’Kar, and so many more travellers can enjoy learning and celebrating the way of the San.

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We are very excited to announce that operations are restarting at Puesta del Sol, our Planeterra project in Nicaragua in November of this year. In March 2018, G Adventures cancelled operations due to the political crisis in the country.

The Puesta del Sol Community Association was founded in 2005 by 17 families, largely influenced by the women in the community. The mission of the organization is to improve the quality of life for their families and the area.

They are located in Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua, which is a beautiful island in the Nicaraguan Lake that has 2 mindblowing volcanoes. The main economic activities in this area are tourism and farming. Through the association, they have created different touristic initiatives. These new opportunities are resulting in families being able to stay together. In the past, due to the lack of jobs some members of the family had to leave to bring or send money home.

Tourism has become a meaningful source of economic development in Nicaragua, but because of the political crisis and social instability, this source of income was heavily affected. Puesta del Sol itself was impacted, they stopped receiving visitors, resulting  in job loss. Many had to leave for either safety or to be able to provide for their families.

Odalis the President of the Association, (her family founded the association) has been involved in every step of the development of the organization and is extremely proud. During my visit to Puesta del Sol in September, I stayed at her house or “homestay”, she showed me around and told me all of the exciting stories about her family and the association.  She is so happy to see how the country is recovering from the crisis, tourists are coming back and she is so thankful and happy to be welcoming G Adventures travellers into their houses.

G Adventures and Planeterra have been working with Puesta del Sol since 2012. Planeterra provided funds for the development of the tourism initiative and the related training. Travellers enjoy living the “Isleno” life for a couple of days through the homestay experience offered by Puesta del Sol, the families in the community are very welcoming, and they really make you feel at home!

The community is eager to welcome back all G Adventures groups!

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Boosting a craft workshop in Kyrgyzstan

Planeterra works with community organizations and nonprofits all over the world, using tourism as a catalyst for empowerment and sustainable development. Here is one example of how we brought on our newest partner, Ak Orgo, in the small town of Barskoon in Kyrgyzstan.

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Meet Mekenbek

Mekenbek is a passionate artist that has spent his life producing traditional Kyrgyz crafts. Mekenbek started a workshop in Barksoon village that primarily produces yurts and yurt decorations. Ak Orgo’s purpose is to preserve traditional Kyrgyz handicrafts while providing employment opportunities for the town of Barskoon, a community suffering with 80% unemployment.

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Finding Ak Orgo

The Ak Orgo workshop has actually been featured in Lonely Planet, and was found by a G Adventures’ CEO in Central Asia. G Adventures’ groups started visiting Ak Orgo in 2018, but it was clear that some additional training and infrastructure development was needed to see this workshop achieve its social enterprise goals through tourism.

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Infrastructure Needs Assessment

The basic structure for the workshop at Ak Orgo was already standing, but the toilet was not at a good standard, the kitchen was barely functional, and they dreamed of having a showroom where the artists could actually display their crafts for visitors.

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Infrastructure Grant

A grant was provided to Ak Orgo to fully construct a building outside the workshop that would house the kitchen, handicraft display room and the bathrooms. The community pitched in to complete the construction project in time for the tourism season to begin. This new building allows Ak Orgo to greatly improve the quality of experience they can provide in their workshop.

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Organizational Needs Assessment

Ak Orgo had no online presence, and struggled to find a way to capture the tourists driving by Barskoon. With the existing craft orders and partnerships the workshop was surviving, but not yet thriving or reaching its social enterprise goals of providing more employment opportunities in Barskoon. Ak Orgo looked to tourism as a launching pad that could help their workshop grow.

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Capacity Building Program

To address organizational needs, a training program was developed with the Association of Social Entrepreneurs Kyrgyzstan. The training program went over a period of six months, with trainings in three key categories – social entrepreneurship, tourism & guest management, and managing their online presence. Through this process Ak Orgo was able to develop their Social Enterprise Business Plan to continue tracking business and social targets for the future.

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Launching in Tours

As Planeterra works with our local partners, we also ensure that the experience is represented into the travel itineraries of G Adventures. Their first group of the 2019 season visited Ak Orgo on May 21, 2019. The group enjoyed a yurt building demonstration, a tour of the workshop and a traditional Kyrgyz lunch. The income earned through this partnership with G Adventures allows Ak Orgo to continue doing what they love, producing Kyrgyz crafts.

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Constant Innovation

Mekenbek doesn’t stop at craft production in the workshop. He is an innovator and creator at heart, and is constantly building new equipment that will allow their crafts to be produced in a less labour-intensive manner than traditionally taught. These innovations mean that more people can continue to produce the items and the culture can be better passed down to the next generation.

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Ak Orgo currently employs 9 community members and hopes to continue providing employment opportunities as their tourism program grows.

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting Ak Orgo. It is our hope that tourism will allow them to continue to grow their workshop, hire more community members, and spread their unique crafts on to the next generation of artisans. Ak Orgo is a special place, and we highly encourage you to visit on your next trip to Kyrgyzstan!

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Two Projects Launched in Sri Lanka

This July was an exciting month for Planeterra in Sri Lanka, as not one but TWO of our new partnerships started to receive travellers from G Adventures. Each is a unique guesthouse with community empowerment at the heart of their business plans.

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Tamarind Gardens Farm, Digana

This quaint dairy farm is situated in a dolomite mining community. Owners Ayesha and Nalin aim to bring tourism to the community as an alternative means of income, and use the space to provide meaningful opportunities and training to anyone interested. Planeterra supported their work by funding a community garden to act as a seed bank for community members to begin their own home gardens. This program allows more community members to be involved in Tamarind Gardens, and works to improve access to healthy food. G Adventures’ travellers will also be receiving a handmade bag from the women’s cooperative on site, which was a program initiated by Tamarind Gardens to support young mothers and provide them with an accessible income generating opportunity.

Read more about this partnership here.

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Amba Chutney Cooperative, Bandarawela

This organic tea plantation is nestled in the hills of Ella. The estate provides fair employment opportunities, training and profit sharing for those working on the tea farm. With tourism growing in the valley, there is now the opportunity to support micro-enterprises that can benefit from the tourist volume coming to stay at Amba’s guest house and visit the farm. Planeterra has supported the first micro-enterprise in Bandarawela, a cooperative of six women that will be trained in chutney production. The chutney will be sold back to Amba, giving a built in market to the cooperative.

Read more about this partnership here.

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Zambian social enterprise empowers rural community

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It’s a journey in itself to get to the Mfuwe Village, nestled in the Eastern Province of Zambia, whether you take a car, bus, or plane. Nearly 10 hours by road from Lusaka, or a one-hour flight, one gets the impression straight away that they are in the middle of nowhere. With Mfuwe’s proximity to South Luangwa National Park, famous for its herds of elephants, scores of lion and regular leopard sightings, it’s hard to find a place as beautiful as this.

The beauty, and wildlife, have all created a perfect arena for tourism in South Luangwa National Park, which boasts a plethora of lodges, and more than 45,000 annual visitors – the most of any national park in Zambia. Despite its remoteness, there is a vibrant tourism economy here, and the Mfuwe Airport is constantly receiving flights of travellers eager to take in the safari experience.

Nestled between this airport and the park’s gate is Tribal Textiles, a workshop and bustling business that employs more than 100 Mfuwe locals. With an impressive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, countless staff benefits, and a social enterprise model, it’s hard to imagine a business as socially conscious.

“South Luangwa is really benefitting from tourism a lot,” says Nsabila Njobvu, Tribal Textile’s Retail Manager, who has been working at the social enterprise for more than seven years. “The higher the number of tourists that we are receiving, the more poverty is decreasing because people have jobs and they are able to take children to school, able to afford a basic meal every day.”

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However, Tribal Textiles is constantly attempting to tear travellers off the road, or away from the lodges nestled far within the national park. As a result, they are regularly finding new ways of marketing their products, and last year they launched a new restaurant in an attempt to acquire tourists on their way to and from the airport. The restaurant, named the Courtyard Café, is run by local entrepreneur and chef, Dorica, who also runs a restaurant in the village.

“Before the restaurant, I had to go do farming in a nearby village to get money,” explains Dorica, who balances her new café at Tribal Textiles, and a restaurant run at her home in the village. “I am happy, very happy, because sometimes that side when there’s no business, at least here [at Tribal Textiles] you’ll find I have customers so I am able to take care of my family and to keep my business going,” Dorica explains. Not only is her restaurant and the Courtyard Café bringing income to her family, she has also been able to onboard staff as a result of the café’s success.

As it grows, the business expands their social enterprise model. Many proceeds from the products sold at the showroom go to initiatives such as Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), the Malimba School, and the Hanada Orphanage. The business has also opened a Community Artisans’ Market, to provide local artists with a space to sell their handicrafts.

Tribal Textiles is the perfect example of a business expanding as tourism increases, and with their social enterprise model and passion for giving back to the community of Mfuwe, they are set to remain an important part of the safari experience for travellers, all while empowering the local community to earn a sustainable living.

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Water Tanks in Thailand

Planeterra has worked closely with The Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute since 2015 to improve community tourism in the indigenous communities of Ban Pha Mon (Red Lahu) and Ban Muang Pam (Karen). These communities were connected to the G Adventures market in 2016 and hosted 600 G Adventures’ travellers that year.

Planeterra’s annual impact assessment showed that increased traveller numbers had led to positive impact on knowledge, skill development, cultural exchange and additional income for the community through tourism. However, it was also observed that the community was consuming far more resources with the new influx of travellers, with increased strain on water, food and power.

The 2016 rainy season caused flooding in both Ban Pha Mon and Ban Muang Pam that completely destroyed some of their irrigation system, which led to an insufficient amount of water to be used in the village.

In Febrary 2018, Planeterra supported these two communities to build 10 water tanks to meet increased water demand. Communities provided their labor, skills and knowledge to build the water tanks locally. Each water tank is able to contain up to 4,000 litres, increasing each village’s capacity to 20,000 litres. The water also will be used for travellers as well as  families in the community.

This community effort allows for sustained tourism activities in the two communities for years to come. Thank you to all donors that support Planeterra, helping others to uplift their quality of life, sustaining the community environment and developing community infrastructure.

Panot Pakongsup

Panot is Planeterra’s Field Manager for Asia. With vast experience working in community based tourism in Thailand, Panot is now bringing his expertise throughout the continent with Planeterra.

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Updates from Colombia

Planeterra has been working with Wiwa Tours in Colombia to set up a social enterprises owned and operated by the Wiwa community of Gotsezhy along the Lost City Trek. A series of enterprises along the trek have opened up new income generation opportunities for the community, including a training kitchen, meal and handicraft experiences. In the last months before launching the experience for G Adventures’ travellers, the community members are putting final touches on the experience. This project works to provide income opportunities for 100 community members. An investment from Planeterra and Live Out There, along with the support of G Adventures, has created a unique new opportunity for the Gotsezhy community to thrive in tourism. Check out some of the latest photos of their progress:

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Making Tourism Benefits Accessible for All

Finding a job in tourism can be difficult for anyone. Finding a job in tourism when you are living with a long-term disability — seemingly impossible. The ability to get to a tourist destination opens a world of possibility. When accessibility is an issue, the only way to engage in tourism may be if a traveller comes directly to where you are.

Not all societies prioritize accessibility. This means that anyone living with long-term disabilities face immediate barriers whenever they leave their home. Simple things like accessing public transportation may mean that a person has to forgo economic opportunity all together. Other societies have certain stigmas attached to disability. This leaves community members isolated from their peers and without adequate opportunities to become independent adults.

This is where Planeterra comes in. Planeterra works with unique partners across the world that are creating accessible futures and meaningful opportunities for the communities they serve. Our partners help serve communities living with disabilities to access education, mobility devices and unique health care. The integration of tourism into these programs allows for increased income to support meaningful work, and hands-on job experience for community members to learn new skills and earn an income.

Get to know five amazing organizations that are bringing accessibility to the tourism industry with Planeterra:

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Senang Hati Foundation

Beyond everyday limitations experienced by people living with disabilities, this community in Indonesia are also faced with culturally ingrained stigmatization. It is believed that those living with disabilities have bad karma, leaving them isolated and marginalized within their communities, often without education or medical care. Senang Hati Foundation is one nonprofit that is working to provide opportunities to these community members in Bali to help individual gain independence and increase mobility. The organization hosts a community lunch for travellers, where Planeterra has helped outfit their dream kitchen equipped with accessible appliances and counters. Senang Hati is a place for community members to gain confidence as they learn new skills.

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Nem Adom Fel

Almost 1 million Hungarians are living with a physical or mental disability. There are also great disparities in employment rates and education levels between able-bodied Hungarians and Hungarians living with a disability. Although recent government legislation and programs have attempted to tackle these issues (and others such as accessibility), with varying degrees of success, there exists a need to empower and employ people living with disabilities in Hungary. Nem Adom Fel Foundation (meaning ‘I never give up’) was founded in 2005 with the mission to fulfill this need with the belief that everyone has something to offer. Not only does the Foundation employ differently-abled individuals to run their cafe, which doubles as a community space for cultural programming, but they use the revenue to invest in social support for students, creating a daycare, providing accessible housing, and other community initiatives. So far 180 people living with disabilities or from Roma communities have been employed by the foundation and as time goes on even more will become empowered through the work of Nem Adom Fel.

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Located in the Katatura Township just outside of Windhoek, Namibia, Penduka is a women-owned and run business which houses numerous handicraft workshops for textiles, beading and pottery, as well as a restaurant, guesthouse, and small income-generating agriculture projects. One of the co-founders of Penduka suffers from physical disabilities and set out to assist other women in her community who often do not receive enough government assistance and are considered unemployable. Penduka hires local, at-risk women with no schooling background and no access to secure jobs, with the majority suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. Through direct employment at Penduka and a handicraft cooperative which contracts the services of rural artisans, more than 300 women from around the country are benefitting from this socially-minded business.
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Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe

The Women’s Development Centre in Kandy have been serving women for over 30 years. Women with children with disabilities have a unique need, as without adequate care for the children they will be unable to work and support the family. Financial responsibility for children with disabilities often falls on the woman to support in Sri Lanka. The Women’s Development Centre helps to meet this need by providing a daycare centre for children with disabilities, as well as a vocational training program to continue learning opportunities for these youth beyond formal education. Youth from the vocational training centre will be serving up hot tea and snacks to G Adventures travellers in Kandy as of 2018, along with women entrepreneurs at the Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe. This provides the students with additional opportunities to learn new skills, build their confidence, and interact with people from all over the world.
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Cafe Ubuntu

When their children’s school for disabilities was chronically underfunded, the ladies of Ubuntu Team came together to create a social enterprise that would provide more resources to children living with physical and psychological limitations in their community. Not only do more than 20 women now work at Ubuntu Made, which creates beautiful handicrafts that are sold around the world, the women also operate Cafe Ubuntu, which hosts travellers as they commute from Nairobi to nearby safari reserves. The funds raised through the cafe and handicrafts go not only towards the women’s livelihoods, but also to funding the community school for children with disabilities, which is now able to employ a special needs teacher and occupational therapist.
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