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4. THE BUSINESS CASE: HOW CAN ECOLODGES BE FINANCIALLY VIABLE?
this section offers insights into the character- istics of successful ecolodge business and finance models and the key factors that promote the profitability and viability of small ecotourism and ecolodge businesses.. The conclusions are based on a study of 15 internation- ally recognized ecotourism enterprises in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific, and South
America (see Table 3). These 15 enterprises, which manage a total of 73 individual ecolodges, were cho- sen because they are respected, profitable businesses that meet triple bottom line standards, and have been innovative in developing a marketable brand for their lodges in their regions.
A Note About the Data
In an effort to better understand the business model for ecolodges, the authors felt that it would be difficult and less useful to isolate an ecolodge enterprise from the larger ecotourism business model. An attempt was therefore made to understand the success factors for both a “stand-alone” ecolodge
and a larger ecotourism business.
Based on their experience in this sector, the authors believe that the study group is sufficiently diverse in terms of business type, geography, size, target market and product offerings to provide a good basis for making conclusions regarding small business viability in the ecotourism sector.
Conclusions regarding profitability are supported by information provided in interviews from ecotour- ism business owners and from a limited amount of financial data collected. The owners provided invaluable information that can only be obtained through years of concrete experience (see Appendix D for the contact list). Further data collection is necessary in order to establish statistical relationships and relevant benchmarks for this sector, but it is the judgment of the authors that it would be prema- ture to seek out more statistical data at present. Ecolodges meeting international ecolodge standards are presently just emerging into profitability after a four-to-five-year start-up period, and the lessons to be learned at present will not be found by pursuing more statistically sound data.
For some ecotourism businesses participating in the study, complete financial data were not available because of: 1) limitations in accounting and finance systems, or 2) unwillingness to share certain con- fidential financial information. Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the authors that additional financial data would not have changed the conclusions. Important business information was acquired from each company by means of extensive phone interviews.
18 ECOLODGES 2004
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