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A few years ago, Mullak'as Misminay was a forgotten Andean community in Peru. The 500 families who live there struggled to earn a decent and stable income through activities such as subsistence agriculture and textile production, even though they live right in the middle of a very lucrative tourist attraction--the Sacred Valley of the Inca, the second most visited tourist destination in the country.
With help from a project implemented by the tour operator Condor Travel, Mullak'as Misminay residents have managed to change their lives by becoming a successful example of community-based rural tourism. This year, their work was recognized internationally: the Condor Travel inclusive business project in Mullak'as Misminay placed third in the 2013 Responsible Tourism Showcase at the annual Educational Travel Conference, an international event organized by the Educational Travel Community (ETC).
Daysy Ángeles is a project manager at Condor Travel, a Rainforest Alliance verified tour operator and a member of Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability (TOPS). Ángeles tells us more about this project, the recognition it has achieved, and other social responsibility and sustainability efforts undertaken by Condor Travel.
Angeles: Since 2008, Condor Travel has been helping the Mullak'as Misminay community with opportunities to generate new revenue and promote the cultural identity of its people. Under the Inclusive Business Program sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB-MIF) and the Dutch Cooperation Agency (SNV), we developed an "experiential tourism" product to promote tours that allow visitors to learn first-hand about the modus vivendi of the Mullak'as Misminay community, while helping local residents become providers of tourist services for lodging, food, and guiding.
As part of the project, 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.
Q. Why did Condor Travel decide to support this community initiative?
A: 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.
A: 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.
Q. What does it mean for Condor Travel to be a part of ETC's 2013 Responsible Tourism Showcase?
A: 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 Cusco.
Q. What was the community's reaction upon learning that the initiative received this international award?
A: 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 Cusco.
Q. How do you involve tourists in these efforts?
A: 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.
A: Condor Travel founded the nonprofit association 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 Cusco and to disseminate the challenges and benefits of inclusive businesses in national tourism networks and private sector unions.
Q. How does Condor Travel benefit from its efforts in corporate social responsibility and sustainability?
A: 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 incentivizes 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.
Q. What are your future plans for the Mullak'as Misminay project and the Wings association?
A: 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.