Creating your own company following your passion for environmental science isn’t easy, explain the founders of STIPA, an ecotourism company and consultancy in Cuenca – the city in southeast Spain that was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In this interview, Nuria Chacón tells us how it all started, why the team expanded its activities towards ecotourism and what the biggest challenges are in running a small business.
- Why environmental sustainability relies on economic and social sustainability for its success;
- How developing social skills leads to greater conflict resolution where the environment is protected;
- Why sustainability measures need to have a clear and realistic vision to be successful;
- The challenges of ecotourism operators and destinations.
Nuria, when did your interest in environmental sustainability begin?
Our interest in environmental sustainability began when we decided to study Environmental Sciences at university. We didn’t know each other at the time. It was after we finished our under- and postgraduate degrees that we decided to work together.
We had been involved in conservation associations since we were young. When we arrived at university, we began to understand the potential and weaknesses of Environmental Sciences as a discipline, participating in different initiatives like ornithological associations or the University Program for Cooperation with Nicaragua, in which we are still involved.
Now, in 2015, how has your initial vision changed?
After all these years, our vision has changed a lot, because we can’t understand environmental sustainability without considering the social and economic dimensions. The social aspect, the social skills that have to be developed when working on environmental projects, is very important, especially in regards to the negotiation and solution of conflicts.
Throughout our careers we have seen many projects fail due to the lack of a comprehensive and realistic vision of sustainability.
In 2008, together with your partner Gonzalo, you founded STIPA as an independent environmental consultancy, and in 2013 you expanded your ecotourism activities. Why ecotourism?
It took us many years to establish this part of the business, but it was clear that there is great potential in the field of ecotourism. Cuenca is a province with numerous protected natural areas, good transportation and quality accommodation, but there is a lack of touristic services. We are talking about a service providing guided visits in these natural areas that is committed to conservation and directly benefits the community.
We didn’t have any previous tourism training, so it was challenging both personally and professionally. Other ecotourism businesses in Spain face similar challenges, since most of them are created by professionals trained in environmental sciences but with little training and/or experience in tourism.
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