Not long ago, Mullak’as Misminay was a forgotten Andean community situated in the middle of the Sacred Valley of the Inca. The 500 families who lived there struggled to earn a decent income through subsistence agriculture and textile production, missing a huge opportunity to earn a secure livelihood through sustainable tourism. With help from Condor Travel, a Rainforest Alliance Verified™ tour operator, Mullak’as Misminay residents have made incredible strides. Today, they are a powerful example of the potential of community-based rural tourism to change lives. Since 2008, Condor Travel has helped the community to generate new revenue from tourism while promoting the cultural identity of its people. We spoke with Daysy Ángeles, a project manager at Condor Travel, about the community’s transformation.
Tell us a little about the project.
Thanks to sponsorship from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB-MIF) and the Dutch Cooperation Agency (SNV), Condor Travel has helped the Mullak’as Misminay people to develop an “experiential tourism” offering that allows visitors to learn first-hand about the community’s way of life while helping local residents become skilled providers of lodging, food and guided tours.
We have provided training in basic hospitality and cuisine techniques to participating local residents, and we are developing a program to improve agricultural and textile techniques to strengthen their capabilities so that their products can gain access to new markets. We are also investing in improving the area’s infrastructure, including organizing and optimizing signage for tourist attractions, facilitating distribution and access to drinking water and food, and financing improvements to bathrooms, kitchens, room furnishings and dining areas in houses that will receive visitors. The project also includes training programs, enhanced equipment, and better marketing for porters, artisans and farmers.
Why did Condor Travel decide to support this community initiative?
We have had a close relationship with the Mullak’as Misminay community since the 1990s, when we started to hire local men to work as porters, cooks and assistants for adventure routes like the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Then we began a philanthropic support plan to help them in matters of health, education and family, which strengthened the trust between the company and the community. Finally, we got the chance to implement the inclusive business project in experiential tourism, creating new “win-win” opportunities for the business and the community.
Tell us more about the families benefiting from the project.
The project aims to benefit 300 families by developing inclusive businesses in economic activities such as tourism, agriculture, crafts and portaging. We are working on the construction of a water storage system with the municipality, IDB-MIF and SNV, which will improve access to water for drinking and for irrigation, increasing the social and economic impact of the project.
Condor Travel’s Mullak’as Misminay project placed third in the 2013 Responsible Tourism Showcase at this year’s Educational Travel Conference. What did that recognition mean to you?
This international recognition comes after five years of constant work on the project, so it is certainly an incentive to further improve and expand the benefits to other communities of Cuzco.
How did the community react to the award?
The community received the news very enthusiastically! The people see it as a reward for their efforts to learn and launch a new business that is opening new opportunities for their families. The recognition also included a monetary award that will be used to give some scholarships to young people in the community who are being trained in Cuzco.
How do you involve tourists in your sustainability efforts?
Through the experiential tours, visitors learn about and experience the community’s way of life. For example, after a traditional welcome with music, they are encouraged to participate in tilling the land, using traditional farming techniques. They also learn about how local plants used as healing folk remedies and in making natural dyes, and how textiles are made by hand using ancient techniques.
This project was implemented by Condor Travel’s nonprofit association, Wings. Can you tell us more about Wings?
Condor Travel founded Wings to promote and implement corporate social responsibility and sustainable tourism programs, and to channel aid and donations from our strategic partners who want to support low-income communities through responsible tourism.
Wings is also a platform to promote volunteerism in the communities of Cuzco, and to disseminate the challenges and benefits of inclusive businesses in national tourism networks and private sector unions.
How does Condor Travel benefit from its commitment to sustainability?
Condor Travel has created a high-quality, innovative tourism product that generates unique experiences for its customers. We’ve noticed an increase in sales for these kinds of products, which motivates us to design new programs involving communities.
In addition, with the efforts that we implement to care for the environment (such as using less paper and energy), we generate significant savings and help raise environmental awareness among our collaborators, which has repercussions on their family life.
What’s next for the Mullak’as Misminay project?
We hope to expand the project’s benefits to other sectors of the community–for example, by improving the water supply, we can strengthen agriculture. Wings is expanding its areas of work, including new communities in its corporate social responsibility program and promoting the destination to volunteers to support the development of new sustainable tourism programs in the area.
Our general goal is to continue working under the guidelines of sustainable tourism at national and international destinations, so our next step will be to involve the regional Condor Travel offices in South America in these projects.
Visit www.SustainableTrip.org to learn more about sustainable tourism operations like Condor Travel that are good for people, wildlife and the global environment.