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Rural Tourism Experiences: Contributions to sustain the rural livelihood

Posted: Feb 26, 2013

Travelling to rural destinations to visit local communities has become very popular in recent years. Marina Delponti, a volunteer for Tourism Concern recounts her experience with the Rural Tourism Network in the Calchaquies Valleys (in Salta, Argentina) in December 2012.

In South America, which has a growing tourism market, there are several grassroots and indigenous movements, which develop and manage rural community-based tourism initiatives. Most of these initiatives operate as social enterprises, co-operatives or associations. The idea of rural community tourism is to provide an alternative to traditional mass tourism, a more ‘authentic’ form of experiencing a place, where the protagonists are the local farmers. These tours enable visitors to increase their awareness and learn about the community and local way of life.

The questionable point is whether this form of tourism can effectively benefit the local communities economically, but also socially and environmentally, by creating sustainable livelihoods. Often, however, the problem for these communities is the poor access to the market.

To learn more I visited a very interesting initiative called the Red de Turismo Campesino (RTC) (Rural Tourism Network), which is also part of a wider Argentine Network of Rural Community Tourism (RaTurC). This Network demonstrates that communities can gain collective benefits from tourism development and they define community-based tourism as “a form of tourism that is self-managed and self-developed by the communities and local people with the objective of generating alternative and equitable incomes. It is highly motivated by the cultural exchange and encourages a respectful relationship between locals and visitors”

The Rural Tourism Network was established in 2004 and has been a co-operative since 2008. At present, it is comprised of 50 ‘campesinos’ (peasant) families of 12 dispersed grassroots communities in the region of the Calchaquies Valleys. Since then, they have been working in developing community tourism based upon the principles of fair trade, ethical and responsible tourism. They offer rural community tourism, which is nourished by their ancestral and campesinos knowledge, however it is not intended to replace but complement their traditional economic activities such as farming, livestock and craft making. They warmly welcome people to come to stay in their home stays, to participate in the daily farm activities through the exchange of knowledge and experiences.

The region of the Calchaquies Valleys is about 200 kilometres from the city of Salta. The road from Salta to Cafayate runs from north to south by The Lerma Valley and Las Conchas Gorge, with its amazing multi-coloured landscape and majestic geological formations.
12 out of 50 local families offer accommodation to visitors in their own houses, which are built with local materials such as clay, stones and the ceilings are made of cane, which maintain their authentic architecture as well as local identity. The rooms are equipped with single or double beds, mattresses and bed linen. The shared toilet rooms have recently been refurbished to provide more comfort for visitors. The accommodation capacity varies from family to family; however, the maximum capacity is 6 people per house. They have also established a “code of conduct”, a comprehensive framework designed to enhance the positive experience of visitors while minimising its potentially negative impact on the environment and cultural heritage. All the families put in practice and promote good practices in terms of hygiene, food handling and processing, visitor’s safety and they ensure visitors to have a social, environmentally friendly and respectful experience.

The families that formed this co-operative are local people dedicated to small-scale farming. They herd cattle, mainly goats and sheep plus have a few hens, which provide them with wool, eggs, meat for their own consumption as well as for trade or exchange. Furthermore, families have their own small vegetable gardens for cultivation of corn, pumpkin, courgettes, spinach, red peppers, and other local products, which are then used to cook typical dishes such as humitas, locro, empanadas, tamales and grilled goatling, and served with homemade breads prepared in the clay oven. They also grow fruits such as oranges, quince, pomegranate, pears which they make into marmalades and jellies. Some families make their own wines, which are then traded locally; visitors can also taste and learn their different winemaking techniques. In addition, many members work with crafts such as wool, ceramics and wood crafts and it is also part of the experience to learn about their tools and techniques.

The time spent in the Calchaquies Valleys was the most inspirational fortnight of my life. During the field trip, I spoke to more than 15 members of the co-operative as well as many other local residents and majority of the respondents had very positive views on tourism but emphasising this as a way to maintain their rural identity and livelihoods. In addition to the economic benefits, many families of farm households said that they also valued the contact with visitors as a valuable cultural exchange experience.
According to the president of the co-operative, Soledad Cutipa, “tourism helps to strengthen our identity and to love our land... Together we can achieve our common goals which go beyond the individual goals...”

From my experience this is great example of community based tourism. The families I spoke to are welcoming of tourists and enjoy sharing their homes with visitors. If you want a trip where you experience the real community and the community gets real benefits as a result I would recommend Red de Turismo Campesino.

Contact details:
Red de Turismo Campesino

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