Kurt Holle's ecolodge employs locals while slowing the devastation of the Amazon
His preference for action over talk is a big part of his success. Perhaps more important, though, is his ability to hear the concerns of his Indian partners and make unorthodox business decisions based on them.
"The project is running well, because [Holle] consulted with the community and we moved ahead little by little," says Federico Duran, the community leader in charge of relations with Holle. "It's a good example for other communities that want to do something similar."
Holle and his business partner, a fellow well-to-do white Peruvian named Eduardo Nycander, got into the ecotourism business in their early 20s using start-up money from friends and family. After founding Rainforest Expeditions in 1989, they built a couple of successful ecolodges aimed mainly at European tourists, whose longer vacations gave them time to get to lodges deep in the jungle. They wanted to build a lodge closer to the provincial capital, Puerto Maldonado, so they could attract Americans, who often had only three or four days to visit the Amazon while in Peru.
At about that time, they received a letter from a local chief asking them to build a lodge on his community's land to provide jobs.
In 1996, Holle and Mr. Nycander did the unthinkable. They formed a joint venture whereby the entire Eseeja community – whose communal values ran completely contrary to Western business concepts – would own a new lodge funded and initially run by Holle and Nycander. The community receives 60 percent of the profits until 2016, when it will completely run and own all aspects of the business.
"We said, 'You [contribute] the land and labor, and we'll fund the lodge. We need 20 years to recover the investment and to train you guys. We also need special zones where you do nothing else,' " says Holle, explaining that any hunting, fishing, mining, and logging would chase away wildlife and ruin the business.