Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Agrotourism Project

I have two jobs in the Urubamba region. First, I am working with an American NGO called ProPeru on this project. Secondly, and to be dealt with in another post, I am working with a Peruvian charity called Arariwa on some website translation and also with their microfinance work.

The aim of the ProPeru project is to achieve a sustainable incentive for tourists to visit Chichubamba in order for the village to profit from large number of tourists passing through the Sacred Valley region.

The incentive for tourists to visit is the opportunity to experience 'the alternative Sacred Valley tour’. That is, the chance to go into locals’ homes, chat to them and their families, and at firsthand see not only how they earn a living but what their life is like. The project will be sustainable if the villagers are able to consistently attract custom and conduct tours independently of ProPeru.

Chichubamba is a rural village adjacent to Urubamba. The tour usually consists of 5 or 6 presentations by the individuals working within the cooperative group. The group consists of 13 families, out of an estimated 120 families in Chichubamba. Each presentation lasts around 20 minutes. Presentations cover how the product is made, some history behind the product or the materials and an opportunity to interact with the product, whether by taste or touch. Finally, there is usually the chance to buy the product. The tour is charged per house, with purchase of products separate from this. The Cooperativo should be in charge of collecting the money from the tourist group. However, there is some confusion with regard to this at present, mainly because lack of numbers has not required anything as formal as a centralised payment system.

The tour is of local businesses that already produce goods as part of their daily routine, often simply for local consumption, by locals. In line with the increasing awareness of the potential revenue from tourism in the Sacred Valley area, the tours aim to capture the growing demand for cultural or ‘immersion’ tourism. Currently, there are two main sources of custom:
i) Sacred Valley tour agencies, for which a day’s tour around Chichubamba and a night in one of the two hostels can form part of a standard Sacred Valley tour program.
ii) One-off visitors who have seen leaflets in Cusco.

After a couple of weeks getting to know the project and the politics within in the village (which are enough to occupy another full post), I have come up with 2 main aims for my time here:

i) Produce a laminated handout for each presentation in English and Spanish. This has two functions:
- acts as an aide-memoire for the presenter (there is currently a consistency problem)
- removes the need for a translator for each tour, thereby granting the villagers more independence from ProPeru.

ii) Streamline the financial side of the cooperative. This includes:
- reviewing their pricing structure, which is currently flawed. For example, it costs 8 nuevo soles (/s) to cook a meal for 1 tourist, for which the tourist pays 9 for the pleasure. Local restaurants might charge anything from 15 /s upwards for the same type of menu.
- establishing a community project for the cooperative to invest in. This is to capture the possibility of a project sponsor in the shape of Intrepid, an Australian travel company, who are keen to increase their involvement with the group. The sponsorship is conditional however on the project benefiting the community as a whole, rather than just the co-op. For, what appear to be reasons of selfishness, the group have dismissed this idea. Therefore, sitting down and proposing a budget for the year will be a useful exercise for them, so that they might see how much they could potentially earn. Hopefully, if Intrepid can be tied in, this will benefit everyone.

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