Sustainable Tourism: By Integrating Social and Environmental Principles in Their Business Models, Tourism Operators Can Lead the Way in Promoting Positive Development with Enduring Benefit for All

Article excerpt

In the grip of the current economic crisis, it can seem all too hard to operate a profitable global business that benefits multiple stakeholders, which assists people in developing countries to preserve their cultural heritage and lessens human impact on the environment.

Tourism, one of the largest and most influential industries in the world, is already set up to lead the way in promoting triple bottom line business principles that have immeasurable positive benefits for the environment, societies and cultures. More than ever before, travellers are demanding lower environmental and cultural impacts, and more meaningful interaction with local people in their travel experiences.

What's more, the long-term economic viability of the industry itself is at risk from destination degradation: beach erosion, deforestation and population displacement. There is a significant opportunity for all tourism-related businesses to be agile, to work with local communities in offering mutually beneficial sustainable tourism products, and to take advantage of emerging market opportunities.

Planeterra in Peru

Since 2005, the Planeterra foundation has been working with the Ccaccaccollo community in Peru to develop employment opportunities and assist in community development initiatives.

Despite their close proximity to tourist meccas of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, very few communities from the surrounding countryside benefit from tourism. These indigenous communities maintain a traditional way of life, dedicated mainly to pastoral and agricultural activities. In order to provide work opportunities, men from Ccaccaccollo are employed by GAP Adventures to work as porters and cooks on the Inca Trail.

Planeterra is also providing a viable economic alternative for women, through the development of a weaving co operative. In partnership with a local Peruvian non-profit, the foundation organized workshops for women in the community to learn traditional weaving practices, which had been largely abandoned over time. From three women participating only four years ago, the co-op has grown to include over 60 weavers, who are reviving traditional techniques of hand-spinning wool, using natural dyes made of local plants and flowers, and weaving by hand using time-honoured techniques. This increases pride in cultural heritage and enables the women to provide for their families, and the project is a good example of how communities can benefit from tourism without suffering negative social and cultural impacts.

Travellers often visit this community while touring the Sacred Valley. They have an opportunity to meet the women, learn about the weaving process and purchase a variety of high quality textiles directly from the creators. Travellers can further support the community by volunteering on GAP's Project Machu Picchu tour, which includes a homestay. Volunteers spend time living with one of the families, and helping out in the fields, the local school or with the weaving co-operative.

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Based in Cuzco, Planeterra's Project Manager, Danielle Weiss, helps facilitate the relationship between the community and travellers. Speaking of a recent visit to the co-operative, she said:

'Juliana spoke about life in their community before we began working with them. She said life was hard, and she spent her days bent over in the fields with her baby strapped to her back. The lack of water in the community made it difficult to rely solely on agricultural activities. She also said that some women were forced to travel to Cuzco to work as maids and cleaning ladies in the homes of wealthy people who paid them little and treated them badly. Tears streamed down her face as she described how life in the community has changed for her since joining the co-op. She stood taller, expressing to us how proud she is to be able to contribute financially to her family. She no longer depends solely on her husband to bring home his wages, as she can now contribute to buying better food for her family and is able to pay for her children to study past the primary level. …