Step Into Their World With Respect: Promoting Indigenous Travel

It is difficult finding indigenous travel experiences that communicate the importance of indigenous wisdom within the tourism framework.  Ayniglobal.org is a great example.  They are “dedicated to preserving authentic traditions and passing on indigenous wisdom.”  Unfortunately, most indigenous travel day trip itineraries are too superficial.  They usually include a dance/artisan display, authentic food, meeting local people and exploring nature; but, many trips usually do not include information about the indigenous group’s spiritual beliefs and practices, their cultural philosophies or even their views about everyday life.

There can be a conscious effort to talk about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of indigenous peoples’ beliefs even on a day trip.  For example, instead of travelers learning just about food, also talk about the cultural and/or spiritual symbolism of certain types of food.  When out walking through nature, instead of just showing travelers a mountainside important to indigenous people, explain why it is important!  Many indigenous people revere all nature as sacred and certain areas of nature are equivalent to a church or temple.  There is a direct personal relationship to nature and everything in it.  Some indigenous people, like the Q’ero people in the Andes Mountains, “have individual names and uses for all plants, grass, birds and animals” (Williams,100).

When planning indigenous travel, it is important for tourism businesses to learn how to communicate with indigenous communities in a respectful way.  Dr. Susan Guyette, in a webinar about Sustainable Cultural Tourism, suggests asking these questions:

“Are sacred sites being protected?  Are welcoming songs being practiced and documented?  Are indigenous entrepreneurs being assisted, being trained and given promotion?  Is ecological restoration taking place?” Have respect by listening.  Listening is a central aspect of communicating with indigenous community.  Make sure that decisions come from within a community.”

Indigenous travel has the potential to empower indigenous communities economically as well as culturally and spiritually.  If done in a respectful manner, indigenous communities have the opportunity to preserve culture as well as alleviate poverty.  Dr. J.E. Williams from Ayniglobal, shares his thoughts on how social businesses can empower indigenous people:

“A social business for indigenous people gives everyone in the community the opportunity to participate, just like they would in growing crops, in creating the kind of lifestyle they deserve. They have the opportunity to mobilize their innate talents and to employ their creativity and skills for solving their own problems, for determining their own destiny, for banishing poverty from their lives by their own efforts, and freeing their children from the damaging effects of generations in poverty.”

References:

Guyette, S. (2012, November 12). Sustainable Cultural Tourism [Webinar]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/53652132

Williams, J.E. (2005). The Andean Codex: Adventures and Initiations among the Peruvian Shamans. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing.

Williams, J.E. (2013, May 19). Social Business: Not Just a Dream, a Reality – Founding of a Q’ero Run Tour Company [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://ayniglobal.org/social-business-not-just-a-dream-a-reality-founding-of-a-qero-run-tour-company/

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Some Thoughts on Responsible Local Travel

While viewing the Responsible Travel and Wildlife Conservation Hangout, I was inspired by Martin Hatchuel‘s conversation with Nombulelo Mkefa where she said, “Sustainable travel is the destination, responsible travel is the journey.”  What are the principles that embody responsible travel?

1. Respect and care for the environment whether it’s land, air, water, animal or plant life.
2. Indigenous culture should be represented in an authentic way so that it is not a commodity, but a celebration of the culture and sacred sites with respect and dignity.
3. In the case of hotels, workers should receive competitive wages, work in a safe and clean environment, and live in the local area.
4. Travelers and businesses are responsible for buying local.

Tourism in the USA has a long way to go to meeting these goals, but with innovation, discussion and action, maybe tourism can work in harmony with the environment.

Let’s Envision an Indigenous World Travel Market #IndigenousDay

Ayniwasi Table

I appreciated listening to the views of Ron Mader and Ethan Gelber discussing media coverage of indigenous tourism.  It’s exciting that Planeta.com hosts many indigenous tourism events online.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a travel market exclusively dedicated to Indigenous Tourism both online and on the ground, so that the conversation would be global?   One advantage of an online/brick and mortar indigenous travel market is the abundant media coverage.  As we prepare to celebrate World Indigenous Day, let’s envision a world indigenous travel market.

#Sustainable Tourism not Real Estate Tourism, says #Indigenous leader from #Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro, Panama, Part I
I recently read an article in Conde Nast about an area near Panama called Bocas del Toro.  The article was well written and entertaining in its storytelling style of a man travelling in the area looking for experiences similar to the author, Graham Greene.
The author talked about the history of the island and there had not been as much development as other islands in the Caribbean.  My interest was piqued as he seemed to describe some of the principles of sustainable travel.  He elaborated on his experiences with local indigenous people, such as a visit to the local school of indigenous children where each had to take a boat (kayak) to get there.  He had a poignant conversation with a local indigenous leader who basically said that sustainable tourism is what the area needed and not “real estate tourism”. The leader added that real estate tourism destroys the land and water, causes the animals to scatter and limits the locals’ ability to fish which is how they sustain themselves.
In other words, development has the ability to destroy and kill or work with local peoples in harmony.  With this in mind, I searched for a video clip that illustrated the harmony that occurs when travelers take a moment to talk with local people.  While the article referred to above and the video are from two separate entities, they seem have a common bond–the search  for local authentic travel within the broader topic of sustainability.

Inkaterra-A Responsible Traveler’s Review #rtweek2013

I would like to share my experience at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Peru since Responsible Travel week is happening from 2/11-2/17/13.  Before I do that, I’ll share some of my ideas about responsible travel:

1) It provides all involved a means of enjoying the place, giving back to the place visited in some way.
2) Travel organizations employ local workers, while providing competitive wages, training and mutual respect in a safe environment.
3) Travelers seek out experiences to commune with nature, learn about the local indigenous culture, and hopefully feel prompted to give back to those cultures, places or people that they learned about during their travels.  The giving back doesn’t always have to be money–it can also be time directed towards their newfound interests gained on a responsible travel trip.

With the above principles in mind, I picked Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel as an example of responsible travel.  At a time when most hotels are the exact opposite of responsible travel, Inkaterra at least makes a steady effort in the areas of conservation and biodiversity as well as hiring local employees.  I visited Inkaterra Hotel in 10/11 and was able to see these principles in action.

It is highly probable that the Inkaterra resort is so serene because of its proximity to Machu Picchu.  However, I will say that by hotel and resort standards, Inkaterra has done an amazing job preserving the natural atmosphere of sacred beauty that is inherently found in Machu Picchu.  Once inside the entrance, it’s like stepping into another small room inside the ‘house’ of Machu Picchu.  The local village, Aguas Calientes, seems miles away.  The plants, trees and animals are lively and serene at the same time.  The environment is truly a sanctuary with its beautiful stone walkways past the Vilcanota River.  Here is a picture I took while inside the grounds looking up at the small mountains along the river:

Inkaterra along the Vilcanota River
Inkaterra along the Vilcanota River

While this is a luxury hotel with its spa, pools, sweat lodge, gift shop, etc., I don’t know too many hotels where it is an absolute joy to   wander the grounds feeling as if in another world.

Inkaterra Sweat Lodge & Pool
Inkaterra Sweat Lodge & Pool

For the responsible traveler, there are many activities which provide enjoyment of the local biodiversity.  There is a fully staffed Eco Center with expertly guided tours through the orchid gardens, herb garden, tea plantation, to name a few.  I was very impressed by the level of expertise and dedication of all of the staff whether they were in reservations, hospitality or in the Eco Center.

My enjoyment of this resort prompted me to search online for more information re:  whether they hired local workers, conservation and other issues.   I found that Inkaterra was awarded the first Green certification from the Peterson Control Union Green Choice Sustainable Tourism Standard.  While this sounds like a distinguished honor, and perhaps it is, I am somewhat skeptical of certification standards in the business community regarding responsible travel.   I did some more digging and was able to find the following:
1) According to http://www.sustainabletrip.org/profile/inkaterra-reserva-amazonica (Inkaterra’s Amazon River location), 86% of the staff is local which supports my observations of what appeared to be mostly local staff at the Machu Picchu location.  I did find a source that stated Inkaterra was “built and staffed by locals” who used local materials.  Profits from other Inkaterra resorts, in both the Amazon and Cusco locations, are put back into conservation.  Source:  http://www.wtmwrtd.com/files/spotlight07_lr1.pdf  (p.27)

2) According to another source, employee salaries are twice the local rate.  I also sensed that employee morale and happiness was apparent in the way employees related to guests.  Staff members seem to be very proud of their work and have a real commitment to this place.  Source: http://tilz.tearfund.org/webdocs/Website/Campaigning/Policy%20and%20research/Policy%20-%20Tourism%20CSR%208%20Pager.pdf (p.4)

These independent online sources support my experience at Inkaterra–a business that knows that without its natural surroundings and local citizens, it would be nothing.  Of course, there is the price tag, which is my biggest complaint simply because quality responsible travel should be accessible to all socio-economic groups.  Perhaps in the near future, there will be more places such as Inkaterra all over the world, offering lower prices without compromising better responsible travel standards.

For more information on Responsible Tourism Week and how to participate, check out Ron Mader’s website, Planeta.com.  Another exciting way to participate is through Google Hangouts.  Check out Responsible Travel Week on Twitter for real-time updates on what’s happening this week.  Facebook also has two wonderful groups, Responsible Tourism Networking and Planeta.com where you can participate and share global views on responsible travel.

Inkaterra at Night
Inkaterra at Night

Book Review: Light of the Andes by Dr. J.E. Williams

Mountain at Machu Picchu

Ever since I came back from my trip to Peru, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Light of the Andes by Dr. J.E. Williams.  While visiting the Andes Mountains, I felt a deeply spiritual connection to the land of Peru.  Reading Light of the Andes helped me understand and place my experiences in Peru within a broader context.   It was a feeling of being in a land that I had never visited before, yet it felt like home.

While every person experiences things differently, there may have been similarities between what I experienced and what Dr. Williams experienced upon his first trips to Peru years ago.  Perhaps it was this feeling of being home, that led him to the very special Q’ero people, and his his soul brother, Don Sebastian Pauccar Flores.  Dr. Williams has chronicled his initial encounters with Don Sebastian in his 2005 book, The Andean Codex.  Light of the Andes continues this journey with Don Sebastian to the great Andes mountain, Apu Ausangate.

While storytelling is a very effective form of communication, it is the principles interwoven within the stories that create a deeper understanding.  This is the very difficult technique that Dr. Williams employs in his writing style in both The Andean Codex and Light of the Andes.  While there are many principles within the Q’ero tradition, I was most interested in the concept of ayni (reciprocity).  In the preface to Light of the Andes, Dr. Williams writes:  “Ayni is the touchstone of the Q’ero worldview who hold it as the code of life, an innate imprint discoverable in nature and ever present in the universe where it forms the content of every thing—the matrix of all being.”

In The Andean Codex, Dr. Williams ventured into the land of the Q’ero to experience life from their perspective.  Most importantly, the relationship between Dr. Williams and Don Sebastian forms a basis for their journey.  In Light of the Andes, Don Sebastian takes his first trip to Lima, the capital of Peru, and experiences urban city life.  When I returned from my first trip to Peru, I  experienced some of the same culture shock.  Once I felt the deep spiritual connection with the Andean world, it felt very disjunct and spiritually barren when I returned to the US.  While I had missed the familiarity of modern 21st century Florida,  I instantly felt a longing to have the spiritual energy of the Andes with me as well.

Most of all, I was impressed by Dr. Williams’ profound spiritual, physical, emotional and mental preparation. His initiation process at Apu Ausangate was the result of years of dedication.  He had to integrate the Q’ero principles into his life before venturing up the mountain.   It is because of his dedication over many years to this process that we as readers have been given a gift.

A Virtual Experience of World Travel Market- London 2012

[Note:  I am not getting paid to promote anyone or any organization on this post.  However, I do have to thank Ron Mader at Planeta.com for his online presentation, Global Workshop for Indigenous and Local Communities, as it sparked an interest in researching about indigenous travel.]

In an effort to learn more about the current state of affairs in the travel industry, I decided to search online for free resources regarding responsible tourism and social media in the travel industry.  The World Travel Market 2012 was a good place to view online archived presentations that had occurred within the last 24 hours.  The website has a “WTM TV” header  that links to presentations ranging from social media basics and tech trends to activity/adventure/sports tourism trends.  Once I saw all of the variety of topics available, I assumed since this was a corporate based audience that they would offer either 20 seconds of online viewing, or charge an astronomical fee.  To my surprise, most of the presentations were no shorter in length than 20 minutes and the average was around 40 minutes.  I was very pleased.

Since I am new to social media, I did learn a fair amount about overall trends like:
1) the importance of a mobile presence since the statistics are off the charts re: future mobile travel search and bookings.
2)But, here’s a refreshing change–one expert said to the audience of travel businesses that it was paramount to seek and hire travel bloggers to deliver on the SEO benefit of using social media.  But, most importantly,
3) subjects that I am very interested in like indigenous travel, responsible travel, conscious travel were mentioned under the heading of ‘adventure travel’.  A few of the adventure travel speakers commented on the importance of creating healthy relationships with indigenous local businesses
not just because it delivers ROI, but because it is the right thing to do.  Paying fair wages, respecting healthy conditions for indigenous workers, respecting the environment are not just peripheral afterthoughts, but central beliefs in any successful travel business model.

In future posts, I will talk about other virtual presentations re: indigenous travel, responsible travel, conscious travel.