Traditional Communities on stage

Reflections after ITB 2019

I found ITB Berlin this year to be a heart-warming and hope-giving experience for the positive signs I saw regarding the sustainability of people and local communities in tourism.

It was great to see communities coming up on stage and be in the spotlight not only as the beneficiary of tourism projects, but as the co-creators.

The To DO Awards were a great example of that.

On the day dedicated to Socially Responsible Tourism it was significant to see three women of great commitment on stage to collect important awards – showing the growth of real engagement, cooperation and new paradigms in tourism.

The AWAMAKI project supports women from the communities of the Sacred Valley in Peru to gaining financial independence while maintaining the weaving tradition of their Pre-Incan and Andean indigenous culture, which they are now sharing with tourists. The communities are at the heart of the project. They not only decide the selling price for the textiles they produce, but they  set the timing and terms of all interacts with tourists.

Anna Alaman, founder of Open Eyes, told a story of the traditional cultural and social barriers and unspoken gender stereotypes that exists in Indian society and showed us the way they are using tourism to overcome them. Based in India, the social enterprise is supporting women to take on professions traditionally reserved to men, such as taxi driver or city guide, and helping them to gain self-confidence and financial independence in a male dominated society and businesses. The cooperation and active participation of the women in the design of every aspect of the touristic experiences is a crucial part of Open Eyes’ work.

Anna Alaman with the women of Open Eyes

Myriam Barros shared with us the story of Las Kellys*, the “warriors” chambermaids of Lanzarote. In a completely autonomous way, through social media and informal means, they organized themselves and started fighting for better working conditions, a fair income and the recognition of occupational diseases. This modern community of 2,000 women has stepped out of the dark corner of the tourism supply chain and started shouting to be heard, reaching out fto government and tourists to be acknowledged and respected.

Myriam Barros – President Las Kellys – Lanzarote
receiving the ToDo Award at ITB Berlin 2019

Representatives of affected communities were also on stage in other moments, such as the first seminar at the ITB Berlin dedicated to Indigenous Tourism. For the first time, this year WINTA brought on stage indigenous communities from Kapiti Island (New Zeland) and Rapa Nui island. We heard how empowered communities are organising and offering their own tourism experiences, designed in their own way, protecting and sharing their own land and fragile ecosystems, telling their own stories and sharing them with tourists.

Communities celebrating communities at the ITB Berlin 2019 – Indigenous Tourism Seminar

This event was also a great opportunity for the communities to meet each other and celebrate the encounter of indigenous people coming from different part of the globe, which is very rarely possible.

The number of countries that have started to break cultural and social barriers through tourism is definitely growing. Through Peak DMC (part of the Intrepid group), for example, I got to know the first Moroccan woman to become a mountain guide, as well as the nomadic women of the Moroccan mountains who have opened their spaces to tourists improving their livinglife conditions for themselves and their children.

It was great to see Brazilian traditional communities on stage as well. The community-based tourism project Rota da Liberdade (Route to Freedom in English), presented at the International Women’s Day Special event, is a successful example of female empowerment throughthorough tourism from the quilombos of the State of Bahia.

I would like to think that what I witnessed this year is the tourism industry realising, for different reasons, and under a variety of pressures, that the communities actually deserve more space.

Their importance has not only been recognised but celebrated, directly linking the work done with them to the achievement of social development, better gender equality and protection of our environment.

They are the guardians of our cultures, and of our fragile ecosystems, the ones that look after the land and the ones who, in many countries like Brazil, bring food to our dining tables every day. And since more communities are choosing tourism as a means to improve their living conditions while remaining true to their traditions and to their lifestyles, it is crucial that the way they enter the industry as a protagonist rather than as a product. In other words, the industry needs to learn to work with the community.

And since more communities are choosing the tourism as a mean to improve their living conditions while remaining true to their traditions and to their lifestyles, it is crucial that the way they enter the industry would be as a protagonist rather than a passive receiver. In other words, the industry needs to learn to work with the community.

Tourists have already discovered they are interested in the communities and in the authentic experiences that they can make possible. It is the community that many tourists want to meet and learn from, rediscovering the beauty of the travel experience, the one where people are encountering each other, in a simple and direct way.

Getting closer to the communities and start working with them with a respectful curiosity and openness, could help the tourism industry to create real long term positive impacts on both people and the environment. The key lies in the quality of the relationship we will build with local communities and in the quality of their role in the industry.