Creating Harmony Between Tourism and Conservation: Meet NC State Visiting Scholar, Daniela Cajiao

— Written By Maude Dinan
Galapagos National Park

Galapagos National Park. Photo Courtesy of D. Cajiao.

Daniela Cajiao joined NC State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management (PRTM) as a visiting scholar this August working alongside PRTM’s Professor and Graduate Programs Director Dr. Yu-Fai Leung. Her time at NC State has been anything but ordinary, as her goals for her visit are dynamic and impactful.

Daniela visited from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, where she is currently pursuing her PhD in Ecology. Her studies focus on Antarctic tourism, where she uses natural and social science methods to understand the experience of guides and visitors, as well as the effects of their activities on wildlife and the natural landscape. While her work can be applied to inform decisions for Antarctic tourism, findings will contribute to a grander project. Years of devoted study in tourism and protected areas led her to work simultaneously for Galapagos National Park through the Institute of Applied Ecology (or ECOLAP) at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador.

This park is the most visited protected area in Ecuador, with trends showing an increase in visitors coupled with changing visitor motivations and expectations. Changes to the park’s visitor population call for improvements to their Galapagos’ Visitor Management System to better inform management’s decision-making under a new visitation era. Applying her expertise from planning and management, Daniela works with a team from various organizations and institutions to develop and test a new tourism monitoring protocol in Galapagos. With an emphasis on stakeholder involvement and the use of technologies (think apps and online reporting!), they hope to improve data collection activities, systemization, and ultimately the strength of the decision-making process.

Alongside her immediate goals to develop the monitoring protocol, Daniela strives to create opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. The collaboration she seeks is not limited to parks and associated organizations, but also to universities and students whose interests and expertise could make for rewarding experiences. At NC State University, her collaborative efforts have extended to a class project with graduate students in Dr. Leung’s Environmental Impacts of Recreation and Tourism course. Throughout the semester, students were exposed to scientific and management literature. From what they learned, and with guidance from Daniela and Dr. Leung, students tested, evaluated, and made recommendations for indicators under consideration for the new monitoring protocol for Galápagos. With the project’s completion, Daniela and the class ventured to Washington, D.C. to share findings with the US National Park Service Office of International Affairs at their Headquarters, while Daniela will present to the Galapagos National Park Public Use Staff in the coming months.

Lake Raleigh Woods

Daniela (far left) guiding indicator measurements in PRT 555 in the Lake Raleigh Woods. Photo courtesy of A. Rogers.

From generating a new tourism monitoring program for one of the world’s most acclaimed parks, to facilitating collaboration and opportunities across multiple continents, Daniela’s work brings exciting developments to the tourism and protected-places nexus. Daniela’s vision for collaboration knows no boundaries and includes a place for students, visitors, managers, and researchers alike to contribute to better harmony between tourism and conservation in our beloved and fragile places.