The Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA) was established in 1990 after The Toledo Home site Farming and Ecology Center organized a series of 8 free community sponsored public workshops on ecotourism held in Punta Gorda Town. The villagers from 3 Maya and one Garifuna village started the TEA program by building four simple guesthouses, so the local people could directly plan, control and profit from ecotourism.
In addition to providing a rich and memorable experience for the visitor, other important objectives of the guest- house program include:
- To ensure just financial returns to local participating communities on a rotational system for equitable sharing of benefits:
- To educate visitors and local people about our indigenous and other local cultures and our relationships to the endangered ecosystems we inhabit
- To fund integrated sustainable development for Toledo which includes the Toledo People‘s ―Eco-Park and alternatives to slash and burn agriculture
- To provide an intimate stay without overburdening the villagers or their resources. (The number of visitors to each village is regulated for this reason.)
- To provide a dignified means of supplementing the income of as many villagers as possible
- To ensure the environment and ecology of the area is respected by visitors and residents alike
TEA Guest Houses
In 1995, grants was received from USAID and WWF and was used to successfully construct and furnish six new guesthouses and upgrade the four existing guesthouses. The guesthouses were all built by the community members of the TEA and made with local materials, in a style which matches the traditional village home design.
In addition, they constructed ten multi-purpose buildings with 20 male and female toilets, separate bathing areas, an environmental education building and ten concrete water vats. Assistance has also been received over the years from the Toledo Home site Farming and Ecology Center, the Government of Belize, the United Nations Development Program, Plenty International, FAVA/CA, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, USAID, The World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the Onaway Trust.
Furthermore, each village group elects their own executive who oversees program operations in that village. There is also a district executive committee elected every 2 years which manages and controls the entire TEA program. Representatives are elected from the participating Mayan villages, and they hold meetings monthly.