Revolutionizing responsible tourism in Nicaragua

“Every action we take, big or small, can make a difference in our society,” says Damaris Guardado, co-founder of Purpose Driven Tours Nicaragua. “I cannot change the world, but I can contribute to make it a better place to live.”

Damaris, a 2017 YLAI Fellow, is working hard to combine her love for her home country of Nicaragua and her love of tourism to give back to those in her country, providing employment and education opportunities across her community. “Through tourism, I am giving the opportunity to local kids to dream for a better future,” she says.

Purpose Driven Tours is a tour company based out of León, Nicaragua, that benefits rural villages and local businesses through traditional tours and volunteer service-learning trips. They work directly with locals in the community, and they use part of their profits to finance social projects focused on helping kids receive an education. They do this by providing uniforms, shoes, backpacks, notebooks, and by teaching English and environmental classes for free. Damaris believes in utilizing tourism as a tool for facilitating easier education access and aiding the fight against poverty in her community.

Responsible tourism’s positive impact

Key components and actions of responsible tourism include benefitting local economic development, ensuring tourism development benefits the community and the environment, becoming part of the local culture, and reinvesting in the local region. These values are essential to how Purpose Driven Tours Nicaragua functions. Knowing how complex the tourism industry can be, it is important to uphold these values, which “can play a positive role in the socio, cultural, economic, environmental and political development” of Nicaragua.

Despite being one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua is rich in nature, culture, and history. There are a lot of resources in tourism, and many beautiful attractions, such as natural reserves, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, lagoons, petroglyphs, islands, beaches, magnificent churches and architecture, and volcanos, including the active volcano, Cerro Negro.

teachingWhat makes Damaris’ organization stand out from other tour companies is the opportunity for customers to become a purpose-driven traveler. They can see these beautiful destinations, live for the day as a Nicaraguan, and feel the satisfaction of supporting a community by working on a community project. Tourists are encouraged to share and learn with the locals, get involved in their daily activities, and make a positive impact in a local village. Purpose Driven Tours aims to protect natural resources and educate tourists while traveling as well.

While Purpose Driven Tours, and many other tourism companies in Nicaragua, are currently on standby due to social and political unrest, Damaris is actively exploring other projects to ensure the community and local schools are supported before tours can resume normally.

Entrepreneurship is worth the risk

Damaris credits YLAI as the best experience she has had as an entrepreneur.“Everything is well designed to help you grow as a professional and as an entrepreneur,” she says. Her advice to YLAI network members is to take risks, take advantage of online resources, and create meaningful partnerships as often as possible.

“Being an entrepreneur is not an easy trip,” she says. “But the satisfaction of doing what you love and knowing that you are contributing to a positive change in your community makes it worth it.”

Read on for more information on the YLAI Professional Fellows program and to read the bios of the participating Fellows from 2017.