Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Development Impact of Rural Tourism in Peru's Colca Valley

by Simon Bidwell


This thesis aimed to evaluate claims that alternative forms of tourism can help reduce poverty and promote more inclusive development in Latin America by creating alternative economic opportunities in historically marginalised areas while supporting and revalorizing traditional cultures and livelihoods.

The focus of field research was the Colca Valley in southern Peru, which has become an increasingly popular tourist destination since the mid 1990s. A broad political economy approach was taken, combining detailed case studies of the experience of tourism in contrasting

localities in the Colca Valley with an analysis of Peru's wider economic and social context. The research thus framed the empirical question of “impacts” with historical-structural analysis while also acknowledging the potential diversity of perspectives on tourism and development. The key questions were as follows:

· What economic, political, social, cultural or other factors have structured the development of tourism in the case study areas?

· What have been the impacts of tourism to date in the case study areas and to what extent has it contributed to poverty reduction and more inclusive development?

· What are the expectations do different stakeholders have of tourism and what is their vision of its potential contribution to development?

Theoretical Background

Two streams of theoretical literature formed the background to the thesis. The first related to the Latin American structuralist and dependency theories which emerged during the 1950—80 period to challenge modernisationist accounts of development.

These theories argued that the position of Latin American and other developing countries as “resource peripheries” in the global economy constrained their development and perpetuated social inequalities. Since the late 1980s, these theories have been superceded by a broad set of approaches which may be grouped under the heading of “neostructuralism”.

Neostructuralism retains many of the insights of structuralism but is more optimistic about interaction with the international economy, in part based on the development success of previously peripheral countries in East Asia. It emphasises the need for resource peripheries to diversify and develop “non-traditional” exports that have a greater value-added component and greater links with local economies. Alternative forms of tourism have many of the characteristics of the non-traditional activities promoted by neostructuralist approaches.

The second stream of literature related to theories and case studies of alternative tourism,including ecotourism and “sustainable”, “responsible” or “pro-poor” tourism. Seen since the late 1980s as compatible with grassroots or sustainable development, alternative forms of tourism are claimed to help preserve natural environments, provide development benefits to local communities,and revalorize traditional livelihoods.

Among the criticisms, alternative forms of tourism have been argued to be no different from traditional tourism, to privilege Western views of sustainability and crowd out local use of resources, and to appropriate and commodify indigenous cultures or livelihoods for external profit. The model of “rural community tourism”, which has developed over the past decade in Latin America in particular, places more specific emphasis on local control and economic benefits but there is continued debate about its potential contribution to development.


A broad political economy approach was taken to the research. This called for a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, combining ethnographic approaches in local communities,structured interviews with formal institutions, and analysis of data. I undertook four months of field work in Peru between March and July 2010, dividing my time between the regional capital of Arequipa, the provincial capital of Chivay, and the case study districts of Cabanaconde, Tapay (lower Colca Valley) and Sibayo (upper Colca Valley).

The perspectives of approximately 75 participants were recorded in field notes, including representatives of institutions, local authorities,small business proprietors and community members. I also conducted a quantitative survey of 41tour operators in the city of Arequipa. I participated in two meetings of the Tourism Technical Committee, which is comprised of 10 State, non-governmental and international institutions working to link tourism and development in the Colca Valley, and I attended a two-day conference on the “Municipal Management of Tourism”.

I also obtained CDs of detailed data from the Peruvian National Statistics Institute on population, poverty and development indicators down to district level and undertook extensive review of Census data.

Discussion of Research Findings

The research found that a broad political economy approach was useful for understanding the evolution and impact of tourism in the Colca Valley. Unlike Peru's most popular tourist destination of Machu Picchu, which is controlled by the State and monopolistic capital, in the Colca Valley tourism had developed in a spontaneous, informal way.

Outside investment had played a role in the provincial capital of Chivay, which is the centre of “conventional” minibus-based tourism, but in the more peripheral case study areas (where adventure and cultural tourism is predominant) almost all tourism services had been initiated by people with local origins, most frequently by return migrants who had accumulated capital in the cities.

However, thanks to their control of transport and information, tour operators based in the city of Arequipa had come to dominate the tourism market, with nearly 80 percent of tourists travelling to the Colca Valley doing so through an agency. Increasing competition among these mostly small-scale urban tour operators had driven down prices and led to pressure being placed on local providers to also reduce prices.

Pre-existing social differences and mistrust within the Colca Valley communities prevented a common front being presented to the tour operators. A cycle of conflict and destructive competition at a number of levels had thus restricted the overall value obtained, disincentivised innovation and led to what many participants described as the “disorderly” development of tourism.

Although lack of cohesion in civil society was a proximate cause of this disorder, the thesis argues that the underlying reasons related to the wider Peruvian context of narrow economic development, underemployment, and wages that have stagnated at early 1990s levels.

In the case study areas of Cabanaconde and Tapay, economic benefits had largely accrued to a few families who had established accommodation and restaurant services. These were mainly people with existing skills and resources who often maintained footholds both in the city of Arequipa and the local village.

Tourism did not necessarily produce large earnings, but assisted the long-term accumulation of assets and promoted economic resilience. Some other community members had obtained additional income through guiding, selling crafts or opening small stores.

However, growing urban dominance of tourism had reduced the space for local participation, particularly of guides. The majority of community members dedicated to agriculture or herding had little contact with tourism and received few benefits:

Little employment had been generated by tourism: jobs consisted of a few formal positions in larger accommodation services, mainly occupied by temporary migrants from the city, and informal work in family-run businesses, usually undertaken by migrants from poorer communities and paid below minimum wage.

In the case study area of Sibayo in the upper valley, a rural community tourism project had been developed over the past five years. In contrast with the lower valley districts, this emphasized equity, broad community participation and linking traditional livelhoods with tourism.

A more homogenous and cohesive social context, unusually proactive municipal leadership, and intensive assistance from outside institutions had permitted significant progress with community organization and development of infrastructure for tourism. However, low volumes of tourists constrained the further development of the project and raised questions about its long-term viability or replicability.

The research also considered social, cultural and environmental impacts of tourism. While studies of tourism in developing countries often paint it as socially and culturally destabilizing, the preliminary conclusion of this thesis was that tourism had had only a minor effect on rapid social change largely due to decades of migration, expansion of secondary education, and the influence of electronic media.

The cultural influence of tourism had on balance been positive, contributing to an increasing recognition and pride in traditional culture and livelihoods, which in Peru have historically suffered from marginalisation and discrimination. Environmental impacts were an increasing concern, notably the influx of non-biodegradable items into fragile natural environments.

Nevertheless, the increase in tourist numbers counterbalanced population decline in the case study districts, and their impact could potentially be mitigated. Greater environmental impacts in the canyon area were threatened by the building of new roads, mining, and a proposed hydroelectric project.

Overall, the research concluded that alternative forms of tourism can have a decentralizing impetus by creating new economic opportunities in historically marginalised areas of Latin America, although these are most accessible to those with existing skills and resources.

Tourism can also be culturally decentralising by bolstering challenges to cultural categories that have historically perpetuated marginalisation, and by offering a useful platform for local self-assertion. However, like other “non-traditional” industries it does little to directly promote equity or address the structural features of underdevelopment, which require wider social and political action to bring about change.

Implications for Development Practice and Policy

An increasing number of institutions were working to link tourism and development in the Colca Valley. Ten State, non-governmental and international institutions had formed a Tourism Technical Committee which met monthly in the provincial capital of Chivay .

These institutions deployed a discourse which combined elements of grassroots development, emphasising sustainability and participatory approaches, with aspects of neostructuralism, emphasising competitiveness and links to markets. The most controversial role was that of the Autocolca authority, a parastatal entity

theoretically responsible for both promotion and regulation of tourism in the Colca Valley and which obtained revenue by charging foreign and national tourists for the right to enter the valley. In 2005, concerted protest action by Colca residents saw the administration of Autocolca devolved from regional to provincial level. However, despite more localised governance and an increased budget for investment, most research participants were critical of some aspect of Autocolca.

The thesis made the following specific recommendations for institutions working to link tourism and development in the Colca Valley:

· Explicitly aim to decentralise tourism in the Colca Valley by presenting it as a place to

explore rather than visit in a tour from Arequipa. Reorient publicity towards extending the stay of visitors rather than simply attracting more tourists.

· Tailor interventions based on the specific needs and potential of each district rather than applying general solutions across the region.

· Consider using regulatory tools to promote local participation and control, given the limited potential to address urban bias of existing efforts to provide skills training and strengthen civil society.

· Improve the transparency of the Autocolca authority by publishing easily understandable summaries of expenditure in local media.

· Place more emphasis on preserving the Quechua language in the Colca Valley.

Some general lessons for development policy and practice emerged from the research. The most salient of these are listed below.

In a market paradigm, demand matters

Where institutions promote grassroots initiatives that remain within a market-based paradigm, they should take account of the nature of the relevant market, and pay particular attention to the demand side. The institutions working in the Colca Valley were doing a lot of work to upskill local people to deliver tourism services and develop new products.

However there was relatively little investigation into the nature or determinants of tourist demand, and few ideas about how to overcome problems with transport and information that prevented local people from gaining access to tourism markets, let alone participating in them on an equal footing. This risks of this approach included wasted investment, disillusionment, and new sources of conflict.

“Local” is a relative concept, and not all “local people” are the same.

An important finding of the research was how much social and cultural context varied within relatively small geographical spaces: despite being separated by little more than 50 km, the respective case study districts in the upper and lower Colca Valley differed in ethnicity, culture, language, livelihoods and migratory patterns. This was not often acknowledged by the various institutions.

People in the lower valley districts were said to be uninterested in projects or difficult to work with. However, all staff from NGOs and other institutions were based in the capital of Chivay (pop. 6,500) and usually only made brief visits to other parts of the valley. Lower valley residents saw this as a lack of commitment to learning about their distinct reality and (reasonably) wondered why no institution bothered to post a staff member in the village of Cabanaconde (pop 3,000).

In theory, the devolution of control of Autocolca to provincial level was a progressive step, putting the governance of the tourism authority in “local” hands. However, people in the lower valley districts felt little had improved: there were constant complaints about dominance of Autocolca by Chivay-based “interests”.

At the same time, people from all parts of the valley were united in complaining about the influence of Arequipa-based tour operators and guides. It isimportant for development agencies to be aware of the differences and commonalities that exist at different geographical levels and to understand how conflicts based on ethnic or territorial identity overlap with those based on class.

Grassroots interventions may be constrained by structural factors at the national level

A key argument of the thesis is that the evolution and impact of tourism in the case study areas were constrained and partly determined by structural factors at the national level. These factors included ongoing narrow economic development based on mineral extraction, widespread urban underemployment and stagnant wages.

Together they incentivised the development of a crowded sector of micro-enterprises with little capital and low risk tolerance, generating little formal employment and tending to compete on price rather than quality. Another specific factor was the deregulation of the travel agency industry in 2005, which contributed to the proliferation of smallscale urban tour operators.

While development institutions working at the grassroots often will not be able to influence these wider structural factors, they should at least recognise them and understand the constraints they place on otherwise worthy interventions. In some cases an understanding of the wider political and economic environment may help institutions develop more

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