Back to the basics: How the pandemic changed the rural tourism industry in Peru

An interview with Karol, an expert on rural tourism. 

I met Karol last year when I was working on a volunteer project in Peru for which Karol is the program manager. She is an expert in working with rural communities and tells us more about the current problems they are facing during the pandemic. 

Could you tell us a little about yourself? Our TripLegends are curious to meet you.

I am Karol. I am Peruvian and I have a Master’s degree in Cultural Heritage Management. Today I work as Program Manager for Global Vision International (GVI). Together with them and the NGO CBC I support rural communities in Cusco in their community development and environmental protection projects. 

During your work as Program Manager for GVI you have worked closely with international groups that have never seen each other before. What experiences have you had in the way people have interacted with each other? Were there many conflicts due to cultural differences? 

The volunteers who come to Peru to work on our projects usually come from different places in the world. However, they usually share similar values. They want to get in touch with new people, get to know a foreign country and are very interested in working together and learning more about Peruvian communities. In addition, many of the groups, after working closely together for several weeks, stay in touch for years, because such an experience really brings people closer together. 

For TripLegend it is important to work with local agencies during our trips. In Cusco you work with CBC Tupay. How do they make sure that the money the tourists earn goes into the pockets of the indigenous people? 

Together with the NGO CBC and the social enterprise CBC Tupay we promote rural tourism. When selling a product in tourism, it is important that the sales channel (CBC Tupay) is very strong so that the rural communities can benefit from it. The NGO ensures that it is accountable for the work it does with the communities. Instead of a contract between many individual associations, an agreement is made with the entire community living in the same area. It is a private enterprise that helps an entire community. In addition, CBC tries to make the associations more formal. In Peru, 70% of the economy is informal, which means that writing down costs or printing receipts is not very common. Therefore, CBC is urging the tour operators to show the communities how much they have charged the tourists, so that a fair distribution of income can be guaranteed. 

Photo by Ben Ostrower on Unsplash

Now, in times of a pandemic, many cultural heritage sites are closed, and the communities living around them do not make any money without the tourists. How do you experience the current situation? What are the biggest obstacles? 

Since the quarantine in March it started to become difficult. The rural communities returned to the basics and started working in the fields again to provide food for their families. The problem is that the agricultural sector is not very profitable. Normally they do not get anything from what they grow. Therefore they originally started to work in the tourism sector. But as you can see now, tourism should not be the main source of income, because it is a very volatile industry. To support the communities, CBC Tupay organized markets in the highlands so that the locals could sell their products without bringing them to the city, since transportation is one of the biggest cost drivers. Moreover, the money coming from the government did not really reach any of the natives. As mentioned above, things are very informal in Peru. It is an exception to go to the local authorities and explain that someone’s address has changed. Therefore, especially because access to the internet is often not guaranteed, most of the government aid has no chance to reach the people. Since the beginning of November, however, things are beginning to change for the better and Machu Picchu has reopened its doors to tourists.

So far we do not yet offer a trip to Peru, but what are the three things you should definitely see when you visit? 

Since Peru is a very diverse country, I would recommend visiting all the different regions it has to offer. Firstly, in the coastal region, everyone should visit the Nasca lines, which can only be seen when flying over them and which still hold many secrets and mysteries. Secondly, a trip to the highlands to see Machu Picchu definitely belongs on the list. It is a very breathtaking place that nobody will ever forget. And finally, everyone should see the jungle and wildlife of Peru. This would complete a perfect vacation in Peru. 

Photo by Amanda Kerr on Unsplash

And now let us talk about your travel experiences! What is your most inspiring travel memory? Where did it take place?

The most inspiring travel experience for me was in my home country Peru. I visited a three-day festival called Paucartambo in July. It is a religious festival for virgins. 12 groups of different dancers will come and show the roots and traditions of our culture with different activities. To see with my friends how they are still so alive today was very inspiring. It reminded me of how rich Peruvian culture is and how much we should appreciate it.

Thank you very much for this interview. Since I have already been there, I know what a special country Peru is and I must say that a visit to Peru should be on your bucket list. 

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