News & views

What can happen when we get tourism right

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Over the past weeks and months we've heard from a diverse range of people from within our little Pura world about what tourism means to them. When you survey it in its totality, it's quite remarkable just how powerful tourism can be when it's at its best.

Perhaps best of all, for each perspective you also see how these benefits get shared around; from the lodge owner changing the lives of their employees to the positive impact a tourists' presence can have on a local person and their young children.

I hope the below inspires, and puts a smile on your face. Thank you for reading and thank you to all who contributed.

1. The lodge owner's perspective

By Pablo Gordienko | Carrara, Costa Rica

"We purchased the property on Costa Rica's Pacific coast 30 years ago. Our aim was to reforest the degraded farmland to harvest hardwood (teak). It was not the green gold expected so we turned our attention to planting tens of thousands of trees and shrubs. We have recreated a multi-layered environment that is now home to over 300 species of birds and countless other animals.

We realized that ecotourism could be our way of educating tourists and neighbors that we can sustainably live in nature and go onto thrive alongside all the flora and fauna that has returned during our stewardship. We are privileged to employ local people that help make the lodge flourish, and we truly appreciate it when guests take note. There are no other job opportunities in the community so the lodge has offered a great chance to have a stable income and avoid migrating to the Central Valley.

Today Macaw Lodge is the largest employer in the area and the only one that offers full time year round employment. We started with four employees and now we are close to twenty; only two of them are not from the area. Our new on-site manager is the first local in this position. As 18-year-old Andrei, the son of our only local policeman, said “...before here, the only job was wielding a machete”."

2. A local's perspective

By Emma Llanos | Sacred Valley, Peru

"Through my friendship with Gabby from Pura Aventura, for a while now I have been hosting their guests in my house for dinner. They come with their guide for a traditional dinner, the way we eat, and the food we eat as a family in the Sacred Valley.

When the visitors come I introduce them to my children, who always enjoy meeting new people and asking questions. It helps give them confidence and new perspectives, and also helps them practice their English.

Of course it is a good opportunity for me to earn some extra money to help pay the bills and support myself. But just as important for us is to be able to share our home and way of living. Our guests feel like they are part of the family. They play, sing and even dance with the children."

3. A guide's perspective

By Davíd Ciudad | Seville, Spain

"Seville, like many other cities, has seen how the number of visitors is increasing every year, even when locals think it is impossible to have any more. But being our main industry, here in Seville, and also Spain, most think that this is necessary.

This can cause problems with crowds and being able to move around the city of course. But in this industry, like in many others, tour operators and local guides have a powerful role, because when you are guiding a group of tourists, you have the voice, you have the control, you have the local knowledge. Sometimes, not always, the people hear you. So this is the best moment to use your voice as a tool to change the way people can see the world... starting from your destination and finishing in their own cities and countries.

Of course I feel the responsibility to use this power, but also "use" their money to improve the local economy of my city, visiting small businesses, interacting with the vendors, avoiding any plastic on my tours and talking about why we do that.

So, I do not like to write more things with my poor English but to sum up my answer in a positive way: travelling we can make great things, we can meet nice people, we can help and support small economies (guides, vendors, drivers, receptionist) but the most important thing is that we can change our point of view, opening our minds and trying to be responsible and sustainable guides and travellers."

4. A traveller's perspective

By Stella Hacker | California, USA

"When I lost a dear friend, it was Chile that helped me find my smile. We had the trip all planned out, ready to go. But then we lost her and it just didn't seem so important anymore. It didn't feel like we had the energy anymore. Things were falling apart. After her memorial, things felt different though. She'd told everyone about the trip - everyone I met knew I was going to Chile.

That's the thing about travel - it's one of the things that brings people closer together and Cindy was going to experience Chile vicariously through us. I knew she'd be there on our long hike in the Atacama, how much she'd love the shimmering lagoon and its crowd of flamingos. And I knew she'd be with us in the backseat in Patagonia, rolling her eyes as I bounced between potholes. Every detail of the trip would be re-lived.

We didn't get the chance of course. But it turned out we needed to get out of California. We needed Chile. I wanted to see something beautiful. It was those six weeks traveling from the Atacama to Patagonia that helped put me back together again."

5. A conservation organisation's perspective

By Kelly Hague | Galápagos Conservation Trust

"Tourism is a vital source of revenue and a window to the wonders of Galápagos. But it is essential to balance these benefits with sustainability values; respecting local people, cultural heritage and the unique biodiversity and environment of the planet’s first World Heritage Site.

Rather than competing with these aims, tourism can play a key role in achieving them; working with businesses and local authorities to promote sustainability, supporting initiatives that generate local participation in conservation and increasing awareness of the natural and cultural heritage of Galápagos, among visitors and the local population alike. By doing this, we continue to play our part in protecting the unique qualities of Galápagos while enhancing visitor experience and benefits for the local population."

6. A travel writer's perspective

By Jeremy Head | Sussex, UK

"The number of places that are really suffering due to too many tourists isn't that huge. The problem is more about dispersal. I hope I can play my part by encouraging people to not all go to the same places and teaching them to think about the impact they have when they are visiting too. We all have a role to play. Inevitably I am promoting travel, but I focus on places where there are fewer tourists and local businesses and even governments want more to come.

But who am I to make that decision? If you asked a bunch of locals if they'd like more tourists, maybe they'd say yes. This is the inherent problem with overcrowding - where is the tipping point? It depends on so many things. Tourism is a phenomenal employer - according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the sector is responsible for 10% of all jobs worldwide. Vast numbers rely on it for their livelihoods. For developing countries, the investment needed to develop tourism is low compared with other more complex industries. It offers a relatively quick way to generate income and lift people out of poverty. So to just say we should stop travelling would be ridiculously simplistic.

My job can make a difference because I can work to spread the message that the real joy of travel isn't about ticking places off a list just because loads of other people have already visited them. My most memorable experiences are often meeting local people in random places, not climbing famous monuments surrounded by throngs of other people."

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