Introduction to Eco-Tourism (Responsible Tourism)
Tourism is now the largest foreign currency-earner in Peru, affecting the lives of millions of people. While it can bring benefits, these are seldom spread evenly.
The arguments for mass tourism emphasize the economic benefits, yet the evidence suggests that - while ruling elites, landowners, government officials or businessmen might benefit - tourism can make poorer people even worse off - both materially and culturally. It's only recently, however, that governments, NGOs, communities and environmentalists have begun to wake up to the need for tourism to be developed more responsibly and sustainably.
Common problems caused by mass tourism include environmental destruction, eviction of local people to make way for tourist developments, the commercialization of culture and the lack of local grassroots economic benefit. The aim of this website is to raise general awareness of these problems, as well as bringing specific projects and campaigns to your attention.
Ecotourism is a form of tourism which aims to include and benefit local communities as well as protecting the environment. There are many types of ecotourism project, including many in which the 'community' works with a commercial tour operator, but all projects should give local people a fair share of the benefits/profits and a say in deciding how incoming tourism is managed. Good community-based tours take you beyond mainstream tourism. You'll meet people from different countries and learn far more about them and their culture than on conventional tours. You'll feel better knowing that your visit is genuinely helping your hosts.
Ecotourism (or responsible tourism) should...
- Be run with the involvement and consent of local communities.
- Give a fair share of profits back to the local community. (Ideally this will include community projects (health, schools, etc).)
- Involve communities rather than individuals.
- Contribute to the conservation of biodiversity
- Be environmentally sustainable and require the lowest possible consumption of non-renewable resources
(Local people must be involved if conservation projects are to succeed.)
- Respect traditional culture and social structures.
- Have mechanisms to help communities cope with the impact of western tourists.
- Keep groups small to minimize cultural / environmental impact.
- Brief tourists before the trip on appropriate behaviour.
- Not make local people perform inappropriate ceremonies, etc.
- Leave communities alone if they don't want tourism.
(People should have the right to say 'no' to tourism.)
(information adapted from Tourism Concern Web Site www.tourismconcern.org.uk )
The Travel Code
As a traveller, you have a responsibility to help ensure that tourism in developing countries such as Peru remains a positive experience for everyone. The following "Travel Code" offers guidelines for low-impact, culturally sensitive and environmentally friendly travel.
1. LEARN ABOUT THE COUNTRY YOU'RE VISITING
Start enjoying your travels before you leave by tapping into as many sources of information as you can.
To get the most out of a trip, seek out lots of information & not just the obvious sources like guidebooks. Try reading some classic and contemporary literature of the country. The internet is a fantastic resource.
Try to check out the behaviour and dress codes that will be expected of you. Visiting religious sites, markets or rural communities looking as though you forgot to get dressed that morning is probably not a good idea! Swimwear and revealing shorts and T-shirts are often only appropriate on the beach.
One of the major impacts holidays and travel have on a destination is economic, you can be a vital source of income for many. If you want to make sure you bring some economic benefit, find out whether there are any community or locally run/owned businesses to use in the places you're visiting.
Learn a few phrases in Spanish before you travel. Even better take a short language course. A few basic words will go a long way to improve the quality of your interaction with local people. You'll be surprised how difficult it is to get by in Peru using English alone!
2. THE COST OF YOUR HOLIDAY
Be fair and realistic about the price of your holiday and how cheaply you can travel.
Think about where your money goes - it's very easy to forget the consequences when you're on a budget trying to save every penny. Competing for the cheapest price and not wanting to get ripped off is common, but some travellers misunderstand how far to go and are overly suspicious or aggressive. By all means haggle (it's often expected after all) but don't go over the top - smile and pay a fair price. A small difference of maybe just a couple of dollars, could mean the person you're buying from can feed his or her family that day. It doesn't really hurt to be fair and realistic, in fact it can be very rewarding.
Try and put money into local businesses. For instance, drink local beer or fruit juice rather than imported brands - they're probably cheaper and just as good if not better. Thinking about where your money goes also includes using local guides and locally-owned accommodation. Tours and excursions run by locals will educate you and benefit them. If possible, support community projects.
3. MINIMIZE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Think about what happens to your rubbish - take biodegradable products and a water filter bottle. Be sensitive to limited resources like water, fuel and electricity.
Help preserve local wildlife and habitats by respecting rules and regulations, such as sticking to footpaths, not buying products made from endangered plants or animals.
Exploring rainforests, mountain trekking, going through remote desert regions, all these are things that travellers' dreams are made of. But if everyone who visited such environments did it without working out how to limit their environmental impact, damage would soon follow.
Recycling is extremely limited in Peru. Opt for drinks in glass bottles as these tend to be re-used.
Use only biodegradable soaps and shampoos while camping but don't use them directly in the water as they won't decompose.
Batteries are one of the most damaging products to leave behind.
Don't treat people as part of the landscape, they may not want their picture taken. Put yourself in their shoes, ask first and respect their wishes.
Most travellers want photos to remind them of their travels, but there are times when photography can offend and intrude. So how do you get your photos of your lifetime without offending the people you are visiting? Consider the feelings of local people and, if it's inappropriate, don't take it.
You may find that sometimes people will ask you for payment for the photograph to be taken. This can have lots of implications, it's worth bearing them in mind. You may think that paying for pictures is a way of putting money into local hands, but it can encourage begging especially amongst children. However, if it is obvious that the locals have dressed up in traditional clothes only to have their photos taken, negotiate a price first before taking a photo. In colourful markets such as Pisac in the Sacred Valley it may be more appropriate to buy something from the store-holder such as fruit or vegetables rather than paying for taking a photo.
Often the best way you can take photos is to offer to mail them a copy. Many locals will be thrilled to receive a photo of themselves.
Avoid giving children sweets for photos; again it encourages begging as well as being bad for their teeth.
Flash photography can damage works of art - check if it's okay first.
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