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Bridging Tourism and Technology and Decentralizing Communication: Miami Conference on Latin America and the Caribbean
by Ron Mader

PLANETA WIKI

The following document is based on a 1996 presentation at the Conference on Latin America and the Caribbean (Miami).


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Before I begin I want to jump ahead to my conclusion. People won't go to a place if they don't know that it exists.

The Internet is a terrific tool that allows people access to information not only about the larger resorts and popular destinations, but also smaller, rural destinations -- provided the information is available to the potential traveler.

As the host of a pioneering website that focuses on practical eco travel around the globe, I'd like to share a few anecdotes.

As a writer, I usually tell other people's stories -- but with the success of the Planeta.com website, I ask for your indulgence as I relate some personal history.


BACKGROUND

I launched the Planeta.com website in Austin, Texas at the invitation of Sustainable Sources, a local BBS and Internet provider, which focuses on green technologies and sustainable sources.

Austin is a wonderful city with a well-developed cyber culture. Planeta.com has grown exponentially as contributors have provided information on environmental destinations as well as tourism services and resources.

Students have a large collection of resources for their studies on NAFTA, rainforests, deserts in northern Mexico and the indigenous ecotourism in South America.

This information is provided free of charge and fosters decentralized communication. We spotlight "practical ecotourism."

Planeta.com has numerous links with travel providers, universities, government agencies and - important to note - individuals throughout the hemisphere, and in fact the world. The quality of these links is that they are personally maintained - there's a real person on both ends. And in this informal network, we keep ourselves up-to-date on environmental news, ecotourism and travel information in the Americas.

MIAMI

I'm very disappointed with the local Internet culture or the lack of Interamerican connections in Miami, particularly in the online business community. As correctly surmised last week in Mexico's El Financiero newspaper:

Life brings you surprises, which is why the best collection of sources for Latin America trade and economic issues on the World Wide Web does not come from the self-proclaimed Gateway to the Americas (Miami) ... but from Lake Oswego, Oregon, home of the Latin American Trade Council of Oregon (LATCO).

Why is LATCO successful? Perhaps it's the distance.

Miami boasts a vibrant Latin American communitiey, and the need to provide information online is quite small. Also, the coordinators of the LATCO website also have the ethic that the Internet should be used to provide as much information for free as possible. This runs contrary to most Miami businesses!

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DIALOGUE AND INTERACTION

Many institutional websites are not well maintained because the administration of a government agency, university or business does give the webmaster or host authority to perform this job in a timely manner. The "under construction" icon is superfluous on any good website.

We also need to focus attention on simple email -- the driving motor of the Web. If people do not respond, they cannot expect to develop business or educational programs from the Web.


INFORMATION PLEASE

Many of the official tourism websites look great, and are copied into magazines or brochures to show readers how hip quotient of the agency. However, online they are clumsy and slow. In addition, the majority of tourism sites on the Internet do not offer the reader useful details.

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VISION

Remember ... the Internet is bigger than its present form and we need patience to learn to be active players. Everything is changing.

PLACES

As I said in the beginning of this talk, people won't go to places unless they know they exist.

Most of our work needs to focus on improving conservation and tourism. If ecotourism is to provide the funds for conservation, the destination must attract travelers. Hence - the critical need for information and the ability for the traveler to make his or her personal connections.


AUTHOR

Ron Mader is the ecotourism and responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.


PLANETA


UPGRADE YOUR WORLD

Upgrade your world! See if Ron's workshop works for you.

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