Ecotourism is business as usual with just a little more concern for nature...

Sustainable Tourism empowers Indigenous and/or local communities to gradually take control of this rich industry in their own territories which currenly benefit outside ownerships. Ethics should be at the core of sustainable tourism as it was stated at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development CSD-7 in 1999.

Sustainable tourism, currently lacking from the RIO+20 Zero Draft of the Outcome Document currently being negotiated, is an issue of concern for Yachay Wasi, NGO/ECOSOC & DPI, based in NYC and in Cuzco, Peru.

This issue is in the text of the Secretary-General report “Implementing Agenda 21” in Chapter IV: Sustainable Consumption and Production. (Doc. E/CN.17/2002/PC.2/7)

Sustainable Tourism was not part of the original Agenda 21 document, but it was important enough to warrant to be focused on at CSD-7 in 1999.

Sustainable tourism, not to be confused with Ecotourism, empowers Indigenous and/or local communities to gradually take control of this rich industry which currently benefit outside ownerships.

As an example: the current tourism practice at Machu Picchu in Peru mostly benefits a British train company and enables class segregation in this area as Indigenous and local residents cannot afford the high prices of traveling and entering their own heritage site.

This intensive commercial tourism in recent years is also destroying the environmental aspect of the area such as the nearby town of Aguas Calientes. Another project asked for by Peru’s former government and tourism industry: the cable car to Machu Picchu project was defeated in Spring 2001, thanks to a few years of protest by UNESCO and international NGOs. That this project was ever planned shows the need for Indigenous control of their sacred sites.

In 1999, Yachay Wasi presented the issue of “desecration and display of Inka remains as a tourist attraction” to the Human Rights caucus which selected it for their report to the Commission on Sustainable Development. It coincided with the last few days of the Mysteries of Peru exhibit at the Florida International Museum which displayed Inka “mummies” and skulls, “opened for Halloween 98” and was vigorously protested by the American Indian Movement in Florida and by Yachay Wasi’s Inka Challenge. In 1996, Yachay Wasi had started its Inka Challenge with the protest against National Geographic Society funding of expeditions leading to the unearthing of the Andean “Ice Maiden” (500 years old frozen remains of a teenage Inka girl) and its subsequent display in Washington, DC.

The misconception of pre-colombian religions carried on by Western scholars is at the basis of the disrespect for, in this case, Inka legacies. Machu Picchu is not recognized as a sacred site and consequently can be abused, such as the September 2000 incident when a beer commercial crane chipped its Inti Watana, the stone sundial.

To this day, society still assumes that the Inka civilization, with well recognized achievements in astronomy and other sciences, worshipped many “gods”, in other words, Inkas were “pagans” (not a word much used nowadays) - therefore it is ok to study these bodies and display them as curiosities! But the Inkas, and probably, their forefathers, acknowledged one Creator and revered the sun and the creation as symbols of His might.

Ethics are at the core of sustainable tourism as it was stated in the multi stakeholders documents resulting from CSD-7. Until pre-colombian religions are understood or at least been given the benefit of the doubt, disrespect of Inka legacies which include archeological sites and human remains, will continue.

January 2002


by Marie-Danielle Samuel

In this new millennium when the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is being established at the United Nations, it was quite fitting that Peru’s new president Alejandro Toledo, who is of Indigenous descent, pays his respect on July 29, 2001 to the Apus* in Machu Picchu, the Sacred City of the Inkas.

If the article "Road to ruins" (The Economist July 21, 2001) is correct, Mr. Toledo states that his visit will boost the country’s $1 billion-a-year economy. The article asks: "But can the fragile ruins of Machu Picchu stand so much attention?…..the biggest long-term threat is Machu Picchu’s fast growing popularity with tourists."

In a recent article, UNESCO SOURCES magazine confirmed that the cable car plan at Machu Picchu has finally been defeated.(see Yachay Wasip 'Simin' January 2000 for information) This good article about the problems of excess tourism at Machu Picchu adds to other problems which I witnessed when visiting Machu Picchu on June 22, 2001 after Yachay Wasi's first Encounter of Indigenous Communities in the High Andes.

In 1990 when I went to Machu Picchu for the first time, I experienced a pleasant ride on a red train, filled with native peoples carrying wares and livestock and a few tourists enjoying the atmosphere, on a single track which ended up at the quaint town of Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters) after passing thru a small tunnel. We bathed in the warm pool nearby, walked back and forth along the track thru the small tunnel as a new experience, and spent the night in a small hotel there with hot showers from the hot springs. In the morning, we took one small bus to Machu Picchu where we had this wonderful site to ourselves.

On my second trip to this World Heritage site, I was looking forward for my friends to experience a similar delight. I was shocked by the irreversible commercialism which has taken over this part of the world... The single track train has been replaced by a full fleet of trains: The "Royal Inca"** which we ended up on as our expensive package tickets were purchased at the last minute is a monster with full dinners and cocktails served on tables between 4 seats, no native peoples there (they cannot afford this!). There is a cheaper train but it is only for locals and no dinners are served there!! Tourists are forbidden to ride on this cheaper train. THIS CLASS SEGREGATION is completely against the sustainable tourism code of ethics of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The town of Aguas Calientes has been disfigured: a huge ugly train station with gates guarded by policemen, only exit is a passageway amid souvenirs stands which ends among dozens of smelly busses.


* Apus (Quechua) are the "spirits" (NOT "gods") of the earth, the mountains, the wind, the sun etc….

** The Economist supplemented the information of Peru Rail, a joint-venture between the Orient Express, a British luxury tourism outfit and a local Peruvian company.

(from Yachay Wasip 'Simin' Summer/Fall 2001)