The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spot light: Ecotourism in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

According to several sources, Argentina’s Ministry of Tourism forecasted that 2010 would set a new record number of foreign visitors to this South American nation, which enjoyed a 32% overall growth in arrivals during the summer months from 2002-2009 according to the Bureau of Market Research and Statistics SecTur. Since greed is a constant and proven threat to sustainability worldwide, I asked what, if anything, is being done to ensure that nature-based tourism (not to be confused with the term “eco-tourism”) in Argentina is enjoyed without jeopardizing the quality and sustainability of the resources themselves?
The government of Argentina realized the importance of tourism and responded to the growth by forming a separate Ministério de Turismo in July 2010. Better late than never, I thought as I typed in their web address , admittedly skeptical of what I would find in way of information pertaining to sustainable travel. Pleasantly surprised, I found a website, much more progressive and focused of sustainability than I had expected: Offered in English, Spanish and Portuguese, the site divides tourism geographically and into seven subcategories: active tourism, sport tourism, world heritage, cultural tourism, special interest, health tourism, and Route 40 (which traverses Argentina north-south). I also learned that Argentina made the list “The Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations 2010/2011”, generated by Ethical Traveler, a non-profit organization formed to “empower travelers to change the world”. This annual ranking is based on categories such as environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights. 
Humbled and encouraged by what I found on a national level, I turned my focus to San Martin de los Andes, a town of 24,000 residents in the Nequén region of Patagonia, Argentina, which can easily be referred to as “Chamonix Mont Blanc of the Andes”. 
Much like its French counterpart, tourism is the main socioeconomic activity of San Martin de los Andes, due to the abundant natural resources in the area. The influx of tourists during peak seasons is remarkable, and Brazilians, Porteños from Buenos Aires, Chileans, Europeans, Canadians and Americans fill every café, hospedaje, kayak, and lift chair July through September for snow based activities, and December through March for all imaginable outdoor activities not requiring snow, from hiking, sailing, and climbing, to fishing and horseback riding. Just like the Alps, but in Spanish and without the cows.     
I visited the official website of San Martin de los Andes, which is informative but offered only in Spanish, something I am certain will change soon to also include English and Portuguese. In addition to the pages relating to how to get there and where to stay, the site has pages devoted to sustainable tourism, disabled travelers, and their system for tourism quality, a three-phase educational plan designed to guarantee standards for quality and sustainability within the tourism industry. I clicked on “turismo sustenable” where I learned that the department of tourism is dedicated to managing all the resources so that the economic, social and aesthetic necessities can be satisfied at the same time that they conserve cultural integrity, the essential ecological processes, the biological diversity and the ecosystems that support the life.
Encouraged by the official initiatives, but aware that nothing happens without participation on the frontlines, I took my query one step further down the food chain and with the help of a local friend, spoke with guides, and tour operators in the area. Their combined response was overwhelmingly positive and it is with pleasure I conclude that even though there is still work to do, people on all levels are truly catching on to the importance of promoting tourism whilst helping preserve natural resources and local economies for future generations to come. Por fin.

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