Marco Antonio Abastoflor Portugal 

Tourism planning and development with a biocultural approach. Torotoro, Bolivia

In order to better understand the importance of integrated planning with a territorial approach, it is necessary to know, first, the broad historical evolution of tourism, and second, the important economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts it generates, in the understanding that it is an activity that inevitably and substantially modifies the territory where it is developed; and, therefore, it will depend to a large extent on the practical application of a tourism development policy.

Bolivia and particularly the municipality of Torotoro, with the support of the Bioculture and Climate Change Project of the Swiss Cooperation in Bolivia, through its executing partner Tupiza Tours, and the Bolivian Catholic University "San Pablo", have ventured into research, betting on the development of a new approach to tourism from an endogenous perspective of identity, sustainable and conscious logic: called Biocultural Tourism.

An approach based on Ken Wilber's theory of holonic integrality, and understood briefly as tourism that aims to facilitate the archetypal experience of the "Journey", in the context of globalisation, climate change, development and Living Well, and in which geographical displacement facilitates an inner displacement, of an initiatory type, in order to find oneself in the face of the Other. It thus proposes a dialogue of civilisations; a dialogue between the West and the Indian Biosphere, which marks the beginning of this millennium at the planetary level (Medina & Mérida, 2014).

Therefore, biocultural tourism is not a type or modality of tourism, it is an approach that undeniably and positively complements the mechanisms of tourism planning and development in Torotoro, and consequently it is also an approach to address the problems related to it. It does not pretend to be the only and main model, it is just another way of looking at things, of expressing ideas and proposing solutions, in an integral and conscious way.

The entire historical, social and cultural evolution of mankind, each era and each historical milestone over time, have brought about substantial changes in the way tourism is conceived, seen and done, leading to the development of different criteria, types, currents and approaches to tourism, which makes it a truly flexible, diverse and complex activity when it comes to studying it.

Since the 1980s, tourism has maintained a sustained growth in income and number of international travellers until 2019, surpassing the long-term trend estimate made by the UNWTO; except for a few "lean" years. 2020 was the shocking and unexpected 1.2 billion drop in the number of international tourists, i.e. a historic 98% decrease due to COVID-19. However, between January and March 2022, international tourism shows a year-on-year increase of 182% (UNWTO Barometer, 2022), thus demonstrating its true resilience and flexibility in the face of global challenges and also reaffirming its great importance in the generation of economic income. 

Since the 90's, thanks to the different congresses, events, conferences, protocols and agendas at world level on "sustainable development", the sector decided to work and rethink its actions with respect to the criteria of "sustainability", generating new alternatives of more conscious tourism, which would be called: "Sustainable Tourism". A concept that is in constant change and evolution since its creation, and that, from this model, different approaches, criteria and principles are born that nourish the tourist activity depending on the territorial context where they are developed, seeking to take advantage of the real benefits that the activity leaves.

In Bolivia, the tourism panorama is somewhat similar to the international one, i.e., in recent years there has been an enormous growth in international visitors, reaching 1,239,281 in 2019 (INE - Bolivia, 2022), a growth that unfortunately has produced a development with technocratic perspectives and reduced to the level of economic growth, creating imbalances and negative impacts on the rest of the social, cultural, environmental and political-institutional areas. Added to this are the approaches and methodologies used, many of which are only a superficial copy of exogenous models, not aligned with the real local, cultural and identity-based needs and problems of the territory. 

In this restless and tireless search for sustainable and integral destinations, there are some destinations (very few) that have made a difference and have made incursions into the research and creation of new, more sustainable approaches to tourism. One of them is the Municipality of Torotoro, a territory with a National Park (PNTT), which has opted for an approach to tourism from an endogenous perspective of identity, sustainable and conscious logic: called Biocultural Tourism.

2.  Feeding back the Biocultural Tourism guidelines 

Biocultural Tourism" (BT) is developed on the basis of the biocultural approach proposed by the Biocultura programme (PNB) of the Swiss Cooperation in Bolivia, and represents a strategy to close the gaps, to re-link the biosphere - nature, biodiversity, ecosystems, agroecology, farming, animals, water, forest, steppe, climate... - to culture - the society/community itself, which is made up of two civilisations, the Western and Amerindian: The PNB Programme, which is a programme for the development of the indigenous peoples of the region, is a programme that aims to promote the cosmocentric point of view of non-Western societies that have lived and continue to live in the nature-society continuum. The PNB Programme, specifies and limits this approach to the Bolivian context as the search for the complementarity of the apparently contradictory, Western point of view: development, progress, and the Amerindian point of view: Living Well, homeostasis, balance, respect. And to achieve this goal, it develops the concept of Systems Interface through the dialogue of knowledge, technologies... which begins with a revaluation of Amerindian know-how and puts it in conversation with Western science and technology: inter-scientific dialogue (Medina & Mérida, 2014). 

And with the implementing partner Tupiza Tours, through the implementation of the project "Revaluation and Development of Biocultural Community Tourism in Tupiza" in 2011, the construction of the particular approach of "Biocultural Tourism" began. But it was not until 2013, with the implementation of the Biocultural Tourism project in Torotoro, that the approach really began to take on more relevance. 

The builder of this approach was proposed through the National Biocultura Programme, but it is also the genuine result of the fusion and interaction of ideas, thoughts, experiences, experiences, dialogues, teachings and learning from the different public, private, community, social, academic, non-governmental organisations, researchers and consultants in each region where work was carried out. 

In this sense, based on the 1st experience of the project in Tupiza, Mérida, Sánchez, Cardona and Soliz (2013), present the first approaches to "Biocultural Tourism", referring to it as a new vision of conceiving tourism management, more integrated between the natural and cultural spheres, which aims to internalise externalities of environmental and cultural impacts generated by tourism activity (Mérida Coimbra, Sanchez Mitru, Cardona Garcés, & Solíz, 2013). They also put forward some principles of the approach. All of them, evidently, are still developing concepts.

However, it was not until 2015, where Medina and Mérida deepen the conceptualisation and guidelines of "Biocultural Tourism", indicating that: "Biocultural tourism aims to facilitate the archetypal experience of the Journey, in the context of globalisation, climate change, development and Living Well: the political, and in which geographical displacement facilitates an inner displacement, of an initiatory type, to find oneself in the face of the Other. It therefore proposes a dialogue of civilisations; a dialogue between the West and Indianity" (Medina & Mérida, 2014). In addition, they go deeper into the biotopes of biocultural tourism, some TB standards and tools, and the roles of territorial actors.

Based on these important conceptual advances, added to an interesting field experience and based on the understanding that the journey not only contemplates moving from one place to another to know and understand the diversity of people and places, but also represents an internal journey, a journey to find and understand ourselves, Biocultural Tourism represents:

Activities of endogenous, identity-based, sustainable, integral and conscious logic that people develop during their trips and stays in places different from their usual environment for a period of time of less than a year, where intercultural dialogues are generated (Knowledge & Knowledge), living experiences, emotions and authentic feelings, a conscious coexistence and a balanced coexistence between hosts, visitors and the environment, reflecting, understanding, caring and genuinely respecting our integral essence and that of the other, and therefore, actions for conservation prevail, preservation, rescue, revaluation, production and reproduction of the bio-cultural values of the territory, but also actions for its administration, enhancement and sustainable consumption, from an integrated view of the biological and cultural, science and consciousness, tangible and intangible, material and spiritual, objective and subjective, collective and individual and the self with the other, actions that should result in the growth of consciousness, becoming then an important alternative of integral and balanced development between the economic, social, cultural, environmental and spiritual.

To access the extended article, click here (spanish language)

Mariana Sánchez Mitru 

Marco Antonio Abastoflor Portugal

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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