Green Hotelier Talking Point
Our Talking Point for May investigates positive and negative impacts of tourism – particularly on the lead up to the World Cup next month. Sarah Bareham at responsibletravel.com believes tourists are increasingly looking for immersive experiences that broaden horizons and explore cultures, but how can hotels, operators and tourists themselves ensure their trip benefits the environment and people they’re visiting, and doesn’t negatively impact them?
The new deal for tourism in Peru
In an increasingly globalised, homogenised world, tourism appears to be bucking the trend. We know that travellers are increasingly searching for unconventional, more enriching experiences which allow them to connect more deeply with the culture, landscape and people in their destination.
We believe that it will be the travel experiences rooted in local places and cultures, those offering a much more immersive, individual experience which will become ever-more popular into the future. But how do we ensure this more authentic travel is a sustainable option? Getting closer to these fragile cultures and environments brings with it a new deal for tour operators, hotels and tourists; a heightened responsibility to ensure that these places and ways of life are not eroded by our presence, but are supported and maintained by guests’ visits.
It’s easy to think of a holiday to Peru as just a journey through lost Incan kingdoms, snow-capped Andes and Quechua culture, and while this ignores some of Peru’s diverse attractions (its extraordinary Amazon forests and wildlife, sky-high sand dunes and Lima’s gastronomic delights), it’s easy to see why Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are the stuff of travel legends.
However, the popularity of this region brings problems. Strict visitor quotas are now in place to curtail tourist numbers, protecting the Inca Trail environment (and its famous Incan steps) from over-use, but what about the social impact of the tourist hordes? Although porters’ rights are now protected by law in Peru, they are still exploited along the trek. Minimum wage regulations (which, at 45 soles (£9) per day, are still barely a living wage) are flouted, and despite rigorous checkpoints, many still carry loads far above the maximum weight limit.
Although the Peruvian economy is on the up, over a third of the population still live in poverty, and life in rural areas is extremely tough; areas which also happen to be trekking meccas for adventurous tourists.
In the rural Andean communities surrounding the Inca Trail and the Sacred Valley, subsistence agriculture prevails and tourism has become a hugely important alternative source of income. However, much of the potential revenue from tourist activities in the area does not reach these communities. Trekking companies which are not locally-run often do not invest profits back into local enterprises, do not treat their porters fairly and are simply exploiting people already struggling to make a living.
Finding the positive
So what’s the alternative? Hotels and operators want to attract tourists to the region and offer them the experience of a lifetime, but many also want to ensure the sustainability of the environment, the local people and their culture.
Trekking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu is such an outwardly regulated experience that it can be easy to think that all the work has been done for stakeholders. But Simon Forster, from responsibletravel.com’s supplier The Beyond Tourism Co . says, “Abuses of porters' rights might not be as widespread as somewhere like Kilimanjaro, but it can still be pretty bad. A lot of companies don't really pay much attention because the porters on the Inca Trail are always portrayed as very well looked after”.
In fact the responsibility falls onto the shoulders of hoteliers, tour operators and tourists to ensure that the trek providers they work or travel with are bringing real benefits to the Sacred Valley’s rural communities. Hoteliers who offer excursions as part of their concierge package should take the time to research and choose locally-run organisations and ask serious questions about their responsible tourism and porter policies.
In the search for a more unique, enriching and local Inca Trail experience, hoteliers could consider partnering with an organisation that offers guests the opportunity to start their trek with a homestay; with porters and their families. Not only does this give tourists the opportunity to experience the region in a much deeper, much more personal way, a closer relationship between guests and their porters leads to a much more enjoyable and memorable trek. The visit then supports communities in a truly local way, with money going directly to the people who need it most. Programmes like this offer a much more positive form of tourism for all involved, based on real cultural learning and exchange, and which sees local communities directly benefit from tourists’ presence. If visitors continue to strive for more enriching travel coloured by unique, local experiences then we will all need to take more responsibility for the impacts this travel has. And is this new deal worth it? We think so.
Green Hotelier has often featured hotels with strong local programmes aimed at directly benefitting the communities in which they’re based. Whether it’s employment opportunities, local sustainable sourcing of produce, education programmes, work with local NGOs or conservation programmes, there are many ways for hotels to ensure they contribute more to the environment and cultural identity of a locality or destination than they take away. This can be especially important in water-stressed areas, places with fragile eco-systems or within small island communities. Please search our pages for information on how hotels can help protect their immediate communities, and encourage guests to learn more about the cultures and environments they are visiting.