Kurt Holle

Rainforest Expeditions
Year founded: 

Rainforest Expeditions partners directly with native and ribereno communities to engage in tourism partnerships that add value to the Amazon Forest and foster conservation activities.

Focus: Environment, Sustainable Development, Eco-tourism
Geographic Area of Impact: Peru
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1500 community members (2012)
Percent Earned Revenue: 100%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013

The Amazon rainforest faces numerous threats including illegal timber extraction, gold mining, poaching, and agricultural expansion. In many cases the rainforests inhabitants have little leverage to protect the forest and deal with encroaching threats. Limited market access for indigenous and ribereno communities often means the only income generating activities available are resource intense. In addition, due to large scale changes in land use driven by market economics and infrastructure projects, the Amazon basin had lost 17% of its original forest cover by 2005, equivalent to all of the country of Venezuela. Locally, this results in an increase of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, increased costs for traditional economies (fishing, hunting, etc), more conflicts, and increased vulnerability to climate change.

Innovation and Activities
Rainforest Expeditions (RFE) is a private tourism company that adds value to the Amazon forest through tourism. Founded in the 1990s, RFE was the first company in Peru, and the second in South America, to partner with a native community to engage in tourism partnerships. RFE manages three eco-lodges in the Tambopata region of the Peruvian Amazon. The three lodges, the Posada Amazonas, the Refugio Amazonas, and the Tambopata Research Center, hosts 13,000 guests per year. The Posada Amazonas is entirely owned by the native community of Infierno and is co-managed by RFE. The profits from the lodge are shared between RFE and the community. By including the community as a partner in the business, RFE generates a commitment to the conservation of the forests, including such difficult practices as the enforcement of no hunting zones. More importantly, the forest reserves around the RFE lodges act as “shields” for the state-protected areas further east, as well as nuclei from which other similar conservations efforts spread.

RFE and its community partners, in Isuyama, Infierno, Condenado, Baltimore and Palma Real help protect an area of more than 1 million hectares of primary forest from illegal timber extraction and gold mining. Perhaps more important, is RFE’s social impact on local communities. Because RFE’s engagement with Infierno is in the form of a full-fledged partnership, the community is a central part of the decision-making. This in turn helps forest families obtain practice and training in engaging with the marketplace on their own terms. Thus, community use of economic benefits and governance of the forest improves with time, because their skills in understanding and engaging with the marketplace increase as years go by. This results in better basic needs services for community families, as well as the ability for communities to deal directly with companies (who may be seeking to purchase carbon credits), with government agencies (who may be seeking to invest in local infrastructure) or with land traffickers (who may be seeking to invade their communal lands).

The Entrepreneur
Kurt Holle is a conservation and ecotourism entrepreneur. He founded Rainforest Expeditions in Peru in the 1990s, offering trips to the Amazon. The company hosts 13,000 guests a year at three lodges, one of which is owned by an indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon. With experience in designing, implementing, managing and marketing operations, Holle works with local communities, ensuring sustainable business practices and forest conservation.