In the heart of the Guatemalan cloud forest, this small indigenous community once survived in an area where the outstanding natural beauty contrasted sharply with harsh economic reality.
A new trend of eco- and cultural-tourism and the villagers’ resourcefulness have brought about some improvements in indigenous peoples’ livelihood and well-being.
For Juan de la Cruz, a local leader, community tourism has been a pathway out of poverty. Opening the “Hostal Nuboso Maya Pokomchi” a few years ago, he has improved his own situation and mobilized the whole village to promote indigenous culture and community through tourism. Community members offer guided tours in the near forest and women engage in the production and sale of traditional handicrafts.
Their new income has helped ensure the food security of the community.
“Rural community tourism and indigenous culture go hand in hand. There is a holistic vision of development where the idea of sustainability covers everything: economic, social, cultural and environmental aspects” explains ILO senior expert in enterprise development Carlos Maldonado.
This form of tourism also meets the needs of a new generation of travelers. Rather than spending holidays in sun-and-sand resorts, tourists are increasingly looking for eco-based and sustainable options.
According to the World Tourism Organization, the demand for ‘experiential tourism’, including among others ecotourism, nature, cultural, soft adventure and rural community tourism, is growing steadily.
Promoting ‘living cultures’
In Guatemala, projects like the Hostal Nuboso Maya Pokomchi were made possible thanks to the financial and technical support provided through FENATUCGUA (National Federation of Community Tourism of Guatemala). The Federation was created in 2004 with the support of the ILO project ETEDPI (Education in Labour, Employment and Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
“The ETEDPI project contributed a lot to helping indigenous peoples out of poverty. It provided schools for indigenous adults to combat illiteracy and to train them in various skills. Now they can start their own micro businesses, and manage their own resources. Consequently their economic situation has improved drastically,” says Ericka Cal, president of FENATUCGUA.
The goal of the project, which started in 2004 and finished in 2006, was to reduce poverty and social exclusion among the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala by creating jobs and generating income, providing education and skills training and applying international labour standards for indigenous peoples, including the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No.169).
ILO Convention 169 emphasizes the value of indigenous and tribal peoples’ unique cultures and recognizes a comprehensive set of rights, including the right to consultation and participation, which are crucial for self-determined development processes.
The project allowed indigenous Guatemalans to preserve their cultural heritage and their lands by encouraging economic self-management and reinforcing their traditional institutions of self-government. Indigenous communities have been recognized as having a voice of their own with the right to autonomous negotiation with key government institutions, the private sector and international cooperation agencies.
According to Carlos Maldonado, this is especially important in a country where 43% of the population is of indigenous descent suffering from deep-rooted discrimination and a civil war which lasted for almost 40 years. In his view, tourism offers them an opportunity to pursue a sustainable livelihood while preserving their territories and their culture.
Since 2006, the ILO has continued to work closely with the Guatemalan and other Central American countries to promote community tourism. In Guatemala alone, 17 consolidated initiatives and communities out of a total of 45 have joined the “Portal of Living Cultures”, the virtual headquarters of the ILO’s Redturs project.
Created in 2001, Redturs is the technical secretariat of a Sustainable Development Network which today covers 13 Latin American countries. The network facilitates exchange of information, spreads promotional and market experience and provides access to enterprise development services, for example, by providing training. Redturs’ last workshops, organized by the Guatemalan government and the ILO, took place in November 2008.
The ILO has also carried out a number of national and regional technical meetings to provide members of indigenous communities with the necessary skills to promote tourism in their native lands while at the same time respecting and protecting their culture and heritage.
In 2009, a project has been launched in Guatemala under the Programme to Promote ILO Convention No. 169 (PRO169) with a view to promoting indigenous peoples’ rights through training, capacity-building and legal advice on Convention No. 169 (Note 1).
Note 1 - More information on the activities of PRO169, can be found at www.ilo.org/indigenous. Training materials on indigenous peoples’ rights, including videos and PowerPoint presentations, are available at www.pro169.org.
- Related information:
Elsewhere in this site: Indigenous and tribal peoples
Statement: Message by Juan Somavia for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People