How Innovative Tourism Can Help Local Communities: Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism in Peru

What is your common way of planning a trip before departure? Maybe go online and sign up for a tourist group? Or sightseeing to different touristy places and take a abundant of pictures? As the conventional way of traveling continues to be practiced by many travelers, two innovative ways of traveling known as ecotourism and responsible tourism have already become more and more popular nowadays.

Ecotourism, simply means travel in an eco-friendly and environmental responsible way. The initial idea of developing ecotourism comes out of the damage and loss that people have done to the local habitat, community and animals.

In the past, some of the travelers and tour guides may harm the local community in various ways. For example, many tour guides would use food to lure animals and to make tourists happy in a natural conservation area. The long-term adverse effect is that it greatly ruins the existing balance in the local ecosystem.

To a deeper extent, most people would like to go to famous places to take pictures and only for the purpose of social media with zero information. The core of responsible tourism is to let tourists immerse in the local community and learn about local culture and history while traveling.

In a nutshell, both ecotourism and responsible tourism can bring totally different experiences to tourists and help the local community while traveling.

Currently, in Peru, the local community and NGOs are working together to make traveling more responsible, environmentally friendly, and insightful through partnerships and eventually bring overall wellbeing to the local people.

Ecotourism: The Natural Refuge of Tingana

In the traditional way of traveling to natural areas, some animals may be limited to move freely.

Additionally, to meet tourists’ needs, travel companies may also turn the conservation areas into commercial use for greater profits and popularity. The development of ecotourism in Peru is diligently changing the aforementioned situation. 

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most important conservation areas in the world. It’s extremely important to protect the rainforest because it’s not only home to many precious species but also home to many indigenous peoples. Nowadays, many people and organizations in Peru are using their ways to protect the environment through tourism.

Tingana, the name of a private conservation area in Tarapoto, Peru, locates at the Amazon rainforest. It’s considered an important ecological area due to its wonderful biodiversity and environment. Tingana owns a variety of mammals, bird species, fish species, and flora. It’s also the habitat for some endangered species.

Aguajales y Renacales Conservation Association of Alto Mayo (ADECARAM) is the name of the association that started in 2004 by local people to develop ecotourism.

On Tingana’s website, ADECARAM clearly states its mission is: “Achieve the preservation of natural resources to develop ecotourism as an activity that promotes the conservation and active participation of the local community.”

Initially, there are seven families in this area participated in the association. During the first few years of establishment, ADECARAM received many technical and financial support for external organizations like PEAM and the DIRCETUR. After overcoming numerous challenges and difficulties in the early years, the number of partnered families increased as well as the development of more mature services and guide tours.

Currently, ADECARAM provides many services for tourists to explore this conservation area in Amazon Forest, such as riding canoes, ecological walks, bird observation, handcrafted fishing, and volunteer program. Through these different activities and programs, both local communities and tourists embraced some positive change.

For local communities, Juan Isuiza, the founder of ADECARAM, said: “This year, we are getting much more popular than before. Tourists have increased a lot during this year. Our total income is triple than last year. Also, we earned four times money than before when we were hunting and fishing.”

Ecotourism not only increased local communities’ income but also led a paradigm shift from destroying the rainforest into protecting and embracing the nature.

“We are farmers and have our farm. We do hunting and fishing before we start doing ecotourism. We put toxic things in the river to catch fish,” said Juan, “But now, we realized the importance of protecting the environment. Also, we understand that to attract more tourists to come to visit here, we have to keep this place be nice and clean and need to make sure its biodiversity.”

Founders of ADECARAM also took several actions to protect the environment. There are forest rangers who check the forest once per month to make sure there is no illegal logging. If they found out someone who is cutting trees and hunting, they will report back to the municipal government to resolve the problems.

Tourists can also benefit a lot from participating in ecotourism in Tingana. “Tourists will have such unique jungle experiences during the trip that they never had it before,” said Anderson Cabera, another founding partner of Tingana.

Activities that happened in Tingana are not just about the trip. However, it’s about environmental education, understanding of the local culture and love of nature.

“I had an amazing tour by a boat ride around the river, where we were able to see so many types of monkeys, butterflies, and birds, also getting useful information of the indigenous communities and their stories behind protecting this beautiful rainforest,” said by a TripAdvisor tourist named Richard Barr.

Responsible Tourism: An Alternative Way to See Peru

Responsible Tourism is another way of traveling that provides tourists with better chances to understand local cultures, history, and social issues as well as to help the sustainable development of local community.

Specifically, tourists will get an opportunity to actually go into local families with the signature cultural or societal background to talk, interact, and communicate with the local communities. Usually, it will make deeper connections between tourists and local people, which may create some opportunities to support the locals.

Many people come to Peru as they want to visit world-famous places like Machu Picchu. In this sense, tourists tend to think that there isn’t much to do and to see in the capital city of Peru – Lima.

Alternative Peru is such a company based in Lima that brings tourists to learn about the history, culture, and social issues in Lima through self-designed responsible tourism tours.   

Specifically, Alternative Peru defines responsible tourism as “the tours focus on an authentic experience for tourists and a culturally sensitive, respectful encounter between tourists and hosts.”

Its mission statement is to help grow responsible tourism in Peru, to strengthen Peru’s economy in a sustainable way and to replace harmful non-sustainable economic activities.

With the regard of company’s mission, it creates many different tours for tourists. For example, the company provides a full-day authentic Lima tour, Lima food and socio-cultural tour, fishing culture of Lima tour, artisan and pachacamac tour, and the Shipibo community in Lima tour.

The variety of tours can fulfill different interests and requirements from the tourists. Meanwhile, these programs also bring substantial income and sustainable development to the local community and people.

Among all these tours, visiting local communities is one of the most popular tours in Alternative Peru, especially the one known as Strong Women Human Settlements. It is a tour to visit couple of female opinion leaders at indigenous groups located outside of the city Lima. 

Balvina originally comes from Ayacucho, a city in the south mountain of Peru. She fled to Lima when she was three years old, due to the terrorism in the 1980s. Currently, Balvina is a local artisan that makes different handicrafts in her community. 

Alternative Peru brings tourists to visit Balvina to listen to her story and learn about her artwork. Furthermore, Alternative Peru will help Balvina to advertise her products on the website.

She feels happy about people coming to visit her because many tourists will buy her artworks and learn about the story behind each handicraft. What’s more, some tourists also help Balvina to sell her products after they go back to their own countries.

As time goes by, Balvina became well-known so that she initiated her workshop to teach other women artwork skills in the same community. Gradually, Balvina not only achieved the increase of income herself but also successfully led other women to have diverse sources of income. The benign cycle of responsible tourism help Balvina and her fellows to achieve economy sustainability in their community.

Similarly, there is an organization called Jugando Aprendo in another community which is a 20-minute drive from Balvina’s community. It is also one of the local tours designed and supported by Alternative Peru.

Jugando Aprendo is an NGO that aims to give local community children aged from 4-16 years old a better place to study and play after school.

In Peru, countless child workers come out to seek a job at an early age after 12 years old. The formation of Jugando Aprendo is to ensure that children of the local community would study and work at the right balance and under the supervision of national law. Many child workers have to go out to work is because their parents ask them to do so.

In this sense, another function of Jugando Aprendo is to educate the local parents about the potential risks and harm that may bring to young children when working outside.

Alternative Peru brings tourists once or twice a week to visit Jugando Aprendo. In general, tourists will bring some supplies to children, such as toys, books, and clothes. Many tourists would also like to play and spend half day with the kids to get to know each other better.

Additionally, some tourists may decide to provide scholarships to help the local kids to get better education after their visit. So far, the tours to Jugando Aprendo have changed over 10 children’s life because of the patronage from tourists.   

While doing this type of tourism, visitors would have a better chance to learn and understand the other side of Lima where people usually cannot see during the traditional tourism. Meanwhile, people who live in the poorest area would get opportunities to sustain their life through the interaction with the tourist.

Tourism in the future

In the end, Tingana and Alternative Peru are just a glimpse of the giant tourism industry in today’s fast-paced world. A large number of people would still go for traditional tourism when they are traveling. There is a long way to go for people to change their accustomed way of traveling because of perceptions are different.

No matter what names are granted to these innovative tourisms, the central idea is the same – that is to minimize negative economic, environmental, and social impacts; to produce greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of communities; to provide enjoyable experiences for tourists through connections with local people, and a greater mutual understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.

By Haobin Zhang

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