The real story behind Capilano’s community based tourism project

Instead of staying at home to work this summer, three Capilano students decided to work on a tourism program in Paraguay. From June 31 to July 21 this year, Matthew Bakker, Jacob Butler, and Vanessa Ramsden took part in the final year of the community based tourism project Capilano started there four years ago.

The University has been involved in international community based tourism since 2002, when a program was started up in Vietnam with the goals of increasing the benefits of tourism in rural areas while minimizing the social and environmental impacts.

According to Chris Bottrill, the Dean of the Tourism Program, the goals are virtually the same in Paraguay. “We apply a great deal of energy to these programs,” said Botrill. “We don’t just do the job and then leave, but we maintain a relationship with the communities.”

After the program wraps up in Paraguay this year, there will be no current overseas tourism partnerships, but Botrill is in the process of setting up the next one. “These programs are so beneficial that we really want to keep carrying them out,” Botrill said.

According to Matthew Bakker, the program is indeed very rewarding.

“We were working 14 hours a day and giving a lot of time and effort,” Bakker said, “But no matter how much we gave, the people there kept giving more.”

The program is formatted in such a way that the first year is all about developing and refining tourism programs, and the students in proceeding years help bring the community together as a cohesive unit in order to form tourism circuits.

As a team, the students would go into rural areas of Paraguay and start promoting tourism programs, or become involved working alongside programs that had already started. They would often join with Cap professors or local professors and help teach the community courses on how to carry out effective tourism programs.

“We focused on increasing capacity through education,” said Bakker. From there, the local people were able to develop their product by creating new buildings and making the landscape more attractive to tourists.

Bakker said that the dedication of the people there was the most inspiring.

“The warmth and gratitude of the people in the community reinvigorated me,” Bakker said.

One of the friendliest people Bakker encountered during the program was Lou Villalba, a man who was born in Paraguay, but has since moved to Canada and become a professor at Capilano University. According to Bakker, Villalba held the program together in Paraguay. He started courses to educate the local people about tourism, and enabled them to take charge of their own situation.

“It was incredible to see how much he put into this project,” Bakker said, “He would work non-stop from 7 am to 11 pm everyday to ensure it was going well.”

Unfortunately, after returning to Canada, Villalba lost something very precious – his home. According to Bakker, Villalba’s house burned down last week, and his wife and child very narrowly escaped going down with it – although you would never know it by looking at him.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bakker said. “He’s just lost his home, yet he wanders around smiling and laughing.”

The house insurance Villalba had did not cover the damages, so Bakker, along with Vanessa Ramsden and Jacob Butler, has decided to try and help out Villalba anyway he can.

“We’re trying to raise money so he can have a home again,” Bakker said. “After all, it’s the least we can do.”

Even though it isn’t in Paraguay, community based projects carry on. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Cap’s tourism project is how it has inspired students to care for their community – right here on campus.

If you would like to help fundraise or help in another way to get Lou Villalba back home, please contact Matthew Bakker at

//Krissi Bucholtz

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