By Their Bootstraps: Homemade Heritage Tourism in Peru

Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the 100 winners announced in October 2021, this story, from the Colca Cañon of Perú, shows how an impoverished community with pride in its culture and traditional architecture can turn itself into a heritage adventure destination: Sibayo.

Villagers look to the sun as it rises over the Andes Mountains. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Submitted by Jeniffer Stephanie Diaz Santivañez, Promotor Touristico.

From Alpacas to Tourists: How the Village of Sibayo Grew a Business

The rural, pre-Hispanic town of Sibayo, nestled in the province of Caylloma, Peru, has met the test of time. Its traditional stone architecture and its living Collagua culture have survived to this day. However, in its recent history, Sibayo was all but forgotten to those outside the Colca Valley. Facing high poverty levels, malnourishment, and inequities that resulted in a period of high migration, the municipality looked towards solutions to better the lives of their community while simultaneously preserving its unique heritage. Thus, the small town began its push from a livestock production economy to a community-based tourism economy.

In 2001, the town set out an objective to diversify its economic activities and open up the rural community to tourism, using a framework that bridges the private sector, local authorities, and civil society.

A Sibayo man leads a group of alpacas down a stone pathway to meet visitors. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Faced with initial skepticism and resistance to this tourism-based approach, local management worked alongside the population to promote the rural community and dispel any concerns associated with tourist activities. Only after villagers felt supported and that they could trust tourism did the real planning begin – nearly four years later. Experiential tourism was developed, centered around rehabilitating the town’s old stone houses, where food and lodging could be offered, meshed with agritourism concepts, in which tourists could participate in planting, handicraft making, firewood collecting, and walks with the local farmers.

Outdoor adventure activities such as rafting have become increasingly popular for visitors of Colca Canyon. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]


As Sibayo began to gain attraction, the community evolved and new experiences sprung up, such as hiking to archeological remains, canoeing, cycling, and living the local culture. Women also began to have a leading role in tourism efforts, establishing 12 women-run microenterprises, which has resulted in improved gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region. By implementing community-based tourism, Sibayo’s economy has become dynamic, and tourism has positively affected the economy. The success of the community-based tourism framework has depended on connections between governments, the local people, and private organizations. Thanks to this tourism framework, the locals have been able to access housing sanitation services, improving the living conditions of the community.

Introducing visitors to traditional cuisine has proven to be an excellent way to foster a connection with local culture. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

To read more about the ingredients that went into these successes, along with how the town is combatting their new test of COVID-related challenges, check out the Green Destinations’s Top 100 story here. 

Vanuatu Tourism Gets a Reboot

Naluandance, Malekula culture. All photos Courtesy of the Vanuatu Department of Tourism

The pandemic has caused massive disruption to the tourism industry around the world. But it has also created an opportunity for destinations to reboot the sector to move forward in a more thoughtful and sustainable way. Here, Geoff Hyde shares how Vanuatu is doing just that. 

Living its Ni-Vanuatu Values: Vanuatu Plans for Resilience, Agritourism, and Cruise Reform

“I rely on volcano tours for my livelihood but I also want to protect my family and community from getting sick from Covid,” said a local guide at a recent tourism workshop in Ambrym, Vanuatu. Indeed, Vanuatu’s Department of Tourism (DoT), in conjunction with public health officials, has been conducting workshops around the country to deliver the twin messages of business survival through financial grants while following health protocols, including vaccinations, to provide safe business and community environments when borders reopen. 

Located in the South Pacific, Vanuatu has a strong and authentic Melanesian culture and an abundance of natural assets within its 83 islands. Closure of international borders has plunged the economy into a serious socio-economic crisis. Like most small island states, Vanuatu has been heavily dependent on its tourism sector.

Gaua Beach, Torba Province.

Economic Reliance on Tourism

According to World Bank data, from 2016-18, Vanuatu had the eighth highest proportion of tourism receipts and the seventh-highest direct contribution of tourism to GDP. More recent pre-Covid 2019 tourism statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council, show the direct and indirect contributions of tourism in Vanuatu accounted for 48% of GDP (Vt 46.8 billion). This data, combined with over 135,000 cruise ship arrivals in 2019 add another Vt 2.1 billion to Vanuatu’s economy (DoT Sustainable Cruise Tourism Plan, 2020.) All totalled, these statistics reveal a high level of reliance on the tourism sector.  

Tam-Tams in the Nasara sacred Rom Dance Ground.

Such a dependency was recognised by the Vanuatu DoT well before the pandemic hit. From 2016, the DoT had been planning for and implementing a more sustainable and diversified approach to tourism development. Funded through NZAid, the Vanuatu Strategic Tourism Action Plan produced the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy 2019-2030, a key initial project informed by nationwide stakeholder consultation. A vital piece of this policy included its Vision, which states, “To protect and celebrate Vanuatu’s unique environment, culture, kastom [traditional, authentic culture], and people through sustainable and responsible tourism” with its goals and objectives based on a set of these shared values:

“Tourism in Vanuatu embraces the traditional and formal economies; it provides sustainable growth by strengthening national and community resilience with the ultimate goal of delivering equitable economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for Vanuatu and its people.”

Vanuatu’s Crisis Response in Action

In response to the international border closure, the DoT quickly established the Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Advisory Committee comprising government representatives, including the Director of Public Health, and private sector stakeholders. Tourism sector policy advice and information was then fed into the National Disaster Management Committee

This resulted in two planning documents with action plans: 

  • The Immediate Safety, Response and Economic Recovery Plan, May to December 2020 for short term responses delivered under the five pillars of health, access, product, marketing, and communications; and 
  • the Tourism Crises Response and Recovery Plan, 2020 to 2023 which became part of – and is now – being implemented through the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Strategy 2021 to 2025Following four themes, the VSTS is more aligned to the GSTC Destination Criteria, the National Sustainable Development Plan, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
    • Wellbeing: through High Value, Low Impact Tourism 
    • Resilience: through Niche Tourism Product Development
    • Diversification: through Agritourism
    • Sustainability: through Certification, Investment and Ni-Vanuatu Entrepreneurship

Despite the setbacks from the pandemic, the DoT has been further encouraged and inspired to implement this sustainable tourism strategy and program as part of the recovery process. This will help diversify the product and create resilience within the tourism sector. Under the VSTS, DoT and its partners are now implementing sustainable tourism programs, utilising one or more of the above themes. 

The programs are:

Tourism Business Support Program (TBSP) launched in March 2021 and managed by DoT through a representative Steering Committee. The TBSP provides financial support and technical assistance for eligible tourism businesses to survive the pandemic’s impacts and have them ready to receive tourists when borders reopen. The eligibility criteria encourage tourism businesses to follow the principles of sustainable and responsible tourism by signing a code of conduct promoting product diversification and increasing local benefits. Financial assistance is available in these categories:

  • Tourism Business Survival Grants: for costs associated with cleaning, maintenance, gardening, security, safety, and utility bills.
  • Renewable Energy Subsidy Scheme: for equipment and appliance purchasing through the National Green Energy Fund.
  • Agritourism Support Program: assistance for selected projects that have integrated the tourism and agriculture sectors into their products. For example, the famed Jungle Zipline attraction is now diversifying into cacao and macadamia nut production to supply local chocolate manufacturers and develop tours when borders reopen.

Safe Business Operations (SBO) Training Program – commenced in October 2020, SBO is mandatory industry training across all sectors to ensure workplace compliance with the health and safety protocols for Covid-19. To date, training workshops and awareness sessions have been delivered to over 2,000 participants in 1,323 businesses across all provinces. SBO is managed by DoT in partnership with the Department of Public Health, the Australia Pacific Training Coalition, the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, World Vision Vanuatu, Vanuatu Institute of Technology, and Vanuatu Skills Partnership.

Agritourism Support Program – encourages diversification and resilience by integrating agriculture and tourism products. It attempts to create a point of difference with Vanuatu’s local cuisine through the ‘Traditional Cuisine Revival Program’ and the ‘Slow Food Educational Program.’ The latter aims to increase the use of local,

Sign at a handicraft market.

sustainable, and organic produce within the tourism industry and raise the nutritional quality of food served to tourists. The DoT is implementing a business mentoring program for 27 local businesses who have now formed the Vanuatu Agritourism Association. This includes business planning, management and digital marketing, as well as presentations on the SBO and TBSP. 

Cruise Tourism Product Development Program – has been implementing the Vanuatu Sustainable Cruise Tourism Plan adopted in March 2020. The Government of Vanuatu is adopting a stronger presence in the  management and control of the cruise tourism segment under ‘high value–low impact’ sustainable tourism principles. The DoT has also recently commissioned independent local consultants to undertake a feasibility study for an Expedition ship to be based in Vanuatu to develop a ‘fly-cruise’ product more conducive to sustainable tourism principles and increased Ni-Vanuatu benefits. A more representative management committee, chaired by DoT, has been established to implement a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the two main cruise companies, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This MOA was independently reviewed by Sustainable Seas Ltd (UK) and includes references to the GSTC Destination Criteria.

Geoff HydeMr. Geoff Hyde M.Sc. (Tourism Planning/Development Economics), B.A. (Leisure Planning) is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Sustainable Tourism International Ltd. (STIL), a tourism consultancy company dedicated to the principles of sustainable tourism as a tool for socio-economic development. He has spent 30 years as a Tourism Sector Adviser and the last five years as the Technical Adviser to the Vanuatu Department of Tourism.

Localizing a Vermont Tour

A key part of good destination stewardship is to favor tour operations that support the people who live there. But does that really work in practice? And actually make money? Agritourism specialist Todd Comen decided to give it a try in his home state of Vermont. 

Visitors have a personal encounter with a young calf, as they visit a local farm and learn about the importance of rural and agricultural communities in a strong regional food supply network. [Photo by Todd Comen]

Hypothesis: Integrated Rural Tourism Actually Works

In 2015, I wanted to test a theory of rural tourism: my own. In the year 2000 I had introduced a theory of Integrated Rural Tourism at the 1st World Congress on Rural Tourism held in Perugia, Italy, organized by Prof. Adriano Ciani of University of Perugia. The theory went something like this: In rural communities, entrepreneurs can supplement their income stream by delivering services to visitors based on their personal strengths and core assets. Once a number of entrepreneurs successfully do this, the rural communities in which they live and work should begin to experience some level of economic revitalization. Direct visitor services in rural communities might include guided tours, food or beverage, lodging, retail, and cultural or adventure activities.

To test my theory I created and operated for three years a part-time Vermont tour company named Bonafide Tours and Expeditions. Would operating a small rural tour business be an effective way to diversify my income and, perhaps more to the point of the theory, would the tour operations encourage economic development in struggling rural communities? The goal of the trial was to provide opportunities for visitors staying in regional centers such as Burlington or Stowe to venture to off-the-beaten-path places in the surrounding rural areas. Theoretically, the result would be financial support and recognition for rural entrepreneurs, especially small farmers in those areas.

The bundled components of an Integrated Rural Tourism experience should give visitors a sense of the unique flavor of a region – natural attractions, unique value-added agricultural enterprises, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and the people who bring life to the visitor experience.

Vermont’s rural landscape is home to many small farm operations that form the basis of the local food supply network – and tourist appeal. [Photo: “Summer at the Vermont Barn” by ‘fossiled’]

My test area was central Vermont, a rural region within 30 miles of Burlington and Stowe. Here I could design driving tours to a variety of agritourism enterprises that became the backbone of the touristic experience. For transport, I rented vans of various sizes from a locally owned company suited to the size of the group. I was both guide and driver, which provided me the opportunity to introduce all sorts of visitors to the places, farms, and people I had come to appreciate across rural Vermont.

The tours began around 9:00a.m., when I picked up guests at their hotel. The tour was designed for stops at least every 45 minutes. As tour guide, I kept up a steady discourse on the history, geology, land use, and cultural aspects of the places we passed on the way to each stop, such as views of mountain ecosystems, rushing rivers and tranquil lakes, historic covered bridges or meeting houses, and small farms or maple sugar operations.

Four tour guests pose by Lake Elmore. [Photo by Todd Comen]

The tours were typically six-to-eight-hour drives that included lunch and snacks at a historic general store or a locally owned café. Farm and specialty food entrepreneurs shared personal stories and gave personalized tours to the visitors. The visitors frequently purchased specialty gifts and food and beverage products from the businesses.

Guests paid between $150 – $250 per person for a guided, day-long tour. Meals, snacks, and wine and beer tastings were included in the total price. All-inclusive pricing ensured that visitors ate heartily and that the businesses would receive fair compensation from hosting the visitors. Donations were encouraged at historic sites where no attendant was present. Wealth from tourism was thus spread across the rural community.

Food, Glorious Food!

As you can see, a typical tourism experience involves food. For many popular destinations, however, most of the food consumed by visitors is part of a long-distance supply chain stretching from where ingredients are grown and processed to where the meals are served. Initiatives to build sustainable linkages between local farmers and tourism businesses have faltered in many parts of the world, but in Vermont linkages have strengthened over the past twenty years due to support from a variety of key stakeholder groups including state government, farmers market organizations, consumers, and interested restaurant owners and chefs. One goal of Bonafide Tours and indeed an Integrated Rural Tourism strategy is to encourage and support a robust local and regional food system supply network to benefit farmers and other community members, thus building local linkages and ultimately contributing to the resiliency of destination.

A maple syrup producer explains the process of sugaring. [Photo by Todd Comen]

As a tour guide, food is a great way to share stories of the landscape and cultural heritage along the tour route. A stop at Rankin dairy farm, for example, sets the stage for a story of how the land was home to first-nation peoples, how the first European settlers raised sheep prior to the Civil War, and how that evolved into its current use as an organic dairy farm. Visitors could meet the farmer, pet the calves, and even try milking a cow by hand. A stop at Morse Farm Maple Sugar Works would provide an opportunity for the tour guests to meet the seventh generation maple producer, whose tales of the evolution of maple sugaring span two hundred years and include the modern machinery currently used to make the sweet stuff everyone loves, maple syrup!

Stopping points during the Bonafide tour experience reinforced the story of regional food. Such tour operators can work with local restaurants to find out where they source their raw ingredients. The stop at Morse Farm, for instance, enabled tour guests to learn the story behind the syrup that they may have had for breakfast at their hotel. Visiting farms, food processors, and craft beverage makers that sell to restaurants where tourists have eaten demonstrate the dynamic relationships of a resilient local food system.

Urban-Rural Linkages Through Food and Agriculture

The model (shown below) of a local and regional food supply network represents key components of an interconnected, circular economy built on mutually beneficial partnerships. Tour guests are introduced to the complex food system networks evolving in the state of Vermont. They meet the chefs who prepare specialty food products for them and learn of the culinary training programs that teach chefs how to source and prepare ingredients grown and processed locally.

To enrich the Bonafide guest experience, tours connected visitors to the farmers and specialty food producers that supplied restaurants where visitors were inclined to dine while in the region. For example, tourists lodging at Hotel Vermont would often dine at either Juniper or Hen of the Woods, two farm-to-table restaurants in the hotel. Both restaurants have actively participated in reimagining the local and regional food system that they are a part of, including how ingredients are sourced, how food is grown, and how food is processed, delivered, stored, and even prepared.

From Dirt to Dirt

Guests also discover business innovations, including food waste hauling enterprises, bridge organizations such as the Vermont Fresh Network and other food hub or distribution enterprises, and composting operations at various scales. Managing food waste from restaurant operations has also been a focus of these and all other restaurants in Vermont since diverting food waste from landfills is required by law in Vermont as of spring 2020. This new approach to food waste management requires disposal, waste hauling, and processing of food waste into soil amendments that go back to farmers, completing the circular economy from farm to table and back again.

This diagram of a local and regional food supply network of the Juniper Restaurant in Hotel Vermont, a frequent pick-up point for my tours, illustrates the relationships the chef and hotel management team built over time with local and regional specialty food and beverage suppliers. This robust supply network features farmers, fishers, and myriad other small businesses contributing to the unique, authentic menu of the restaurant. Symbiotic relationships such as these build a healthy and resilient food system.

In situations where farm-to-table partnerships are limited or non-existent, a good substitute is visiting farmers markets or specialty food stores that carry locally grown produce or locally raised meats or dairy products. Sometimes, stopping by the edge of a farm field may have to suffice to explain how the farm and its crops fit into the economic and cultural milieu of the community. In time, the tour operator will realize that relationships with the farmers will inspire them to share their story of the farm and farm life, which in turn opens the door to expanding partnerships with the consumer and possibly restaurateurs.

Tour Operation: Lessons Learned

Business partnerships – Hotels and resorts are the conduit for customers for small tour companies. Visitors staying in primary anchor destinations are eager to explore backroads and agritourism enterprises with the assistance of an experienced guide.

Marketing partnerships – Hotel and resort employees become spokespersons for the tour operation. Familiarization trips, newsletters, and personal relationships add up to referrals, which are the lifeblood of the small tour business.

Market segments – People who enjoy exploring a rural destination include young professionals, food and beverage enthusiasts, retired explorers, seasoned photographers, landscape appreciators, and friends and families.

Community benefit – Tour design can spread the wealth from visitors. By integrating a variety of distinctive small businesses and special places you can achieve cohesive and personalized visitor experiences for specific market segments. Small farm operations with retail sections, historic cultural sites, local eateries, general stores, and craft food and beverage enterprises make up the tour experience.

A tour guest risks wet feet or worse to capture a scenic covered bridge. [Photo by Todd Comen]

Key takeaways from my three years of participant observation operating Bonafide Tours include:

  1. Low start-up costs if done right; primarily variable costs rather than fixed costs.
  2. Marketing is about building relationships with people who will promote the experience.
  3. Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial and cooperative.
  4. Pricing communicates value of the tour, so don’t underprice a high quality experience.
  5. All-inclusive pricing ensured that tourist wealth was shared among rural enterprises.
  6. Monitor guest satisfaction during the tour, and adapt the tour as needed with input from guests.
  7. Even in a drive market such as Vermont, people appreciate guided driving tours that get off the beaten path accompanied by experts with local knowledge.
  8. High ratings on a third party review site such as Trip Advisor will help sell tour experiences!

Testing my theory of Integrated Rural Tourism demonstrated that over time, even a small tour operator can make a profit while boosting revenue streams in rural communities. Stopping at farms, maple sugar houses, general stores and cafes, and even the historic sites enabled visitors to spend money on gifts. Since the price of the tour included lunch, snacks, beverage tastings, and entrance fees, businesses visited by the tour always received revenue, achieving the goal of the theory of Integrated Rural Tourism. The test was a success!

The lesson for destinations seeking sustainable economic benefits? Encourage would-be entrepreneurs to diversify their income by launching small tourism enterprises like the one described in this article. Requirements include time, energy, customer service skills, partnerships, persistence, and a little creativity. That’s it, combined with a steady stream of visitors eager to get off the beaten path and out into rural communities.

Featured Partnerships of Bonafide Tours and Expeditions

  • Hotel Vermont
  • Lodge at Spruce Peak
  • Trapp Family Lodge and Brewery
  • Boyden Winery
  • Morse Farm Sugar Works
  • Shelburne Vineyards
  • Falls General Store
  • Stowe Hard Cider
  • Red Hen Baking Company
  • Elmore General Store
  • Lost Nation Brewing
  • Rankin Family Farm
  • Majestic Car Rental

“Inspiring Places” Pilot Video Released

[Above: A Sierra Gorda panorama. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Featuring Sierra Gorda, Querétaro, Mexico

We chose the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as the international pilot for this series because of one organization’s well-established success in their approach to conservation: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. In the videos, our two millennial hosts enjoy exploring the region as they discover how Grupo Ecológico has achieved its success.

Video hosts Ian and Christian at Cuatro Palos, Sierra Gorda. Photo: Hassen Salum

By working closely both with the local rural population, many of whom live at subsistence level, and with a succession of state and local governments, Grupo Ecológico has helped protect a wide variety of natural habitats while gradually making northeastern Querétaro into a scenic paradise for international travelers seeking an authentic Mexican experience.

You can now see and link to the Sierra Gorda videos on our YouTube channel, World’s Inspiring Places.  There are three versions:

Subscribe to the channel to see additional videos about Sierra Gorda and shooting World’s Inspiring Places pilot.

The World’s Inspiring Places is a short-form online travel series created by Erika Gilsdorf, owner and producer of South Shore Productions, and Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the Destination Stewardship Center, both based in the United States. The series aims to showcase stewardship success stories around the world where people are working to help conserve or preserve the cultural and natural heritage of a destination, or creating a unique travel experience the supports and builds on that heritage.

Destinations do not pay for the videos; we look instead for external support free from local conflict of interest. In the case of Sierra Gorda, we are grateful for generous support from Freightliner.

The mission of World’s Inspiring Places is to encourage travelers to visit, enjoy, and appreciate authentic destinations that protect their nature, culture, and sense of place; to help individuals, businesses, and governments care for these places and the people who live there; and to inform and inspire leaders to secure a solid economic future through wise destination stewardship.

For two reasons, we encourage you to enjoy the Sierra Gorda videos and link to them through your own social media, blogs, or websites. First, Grupo Ecológico’s work is truly a model for the rest of the world, worthy of dissemination. Second, we seek new topics for World’s Inspiring Places and, of course, ongoing sponsorship support for a series that will, we hope, showcase the world’s best examples of great stewardship and rewarding travel.

Our thanks to Grupo Ecológico for their help with our six-day shoot this past August, and with my own visit in October. Our appreciation also to Freightliner for their financial support and to Antonio del Rosal of Experiencias Genuinas  for his assistance in serving as our Mexican liaison.

If you have a proposal for the next World’s Inspiring Places, please see our page on how to apply, or contact us to begin a conversation.

Contact us, too, if you would like to download your own copy of a video, including a high-resolution version for audience presentations and the like.