Chile was recently awarded the distinction of being one of the most sustainable travel destinations. The reality is that we Chileans still have a long path ahead until we can take on the responsibility that this recognition provides.
Our country is one of the richest in the world when it comes to natural and dramatic landscapes. It’s this diversity of the land that gives us the perfect scenario for adventure and nature travel.
But, everything is not as good as it sounds. Real estate development, extractive industries such as salmon farming in the Lake District as well as mining projects in the northern and the southern regions are placed at odds with efforts to develop real sustainable and responsible tourism for our local communities.
Another challenge for Chile is how we intend to balance the growing travel industry with the impact that tourism may have on ecosystems. Not only that, how do we keep alive the cultural diversity of our communities.
With more than 15 years in the field, guiding and leading birding and naturalist expeditions, we have first-hand accounts of how wildlife is being affected by polluting industries and real estate development.
Year after year, we see how an area that used to provide good observation is now reduced or sometimes eliminated from itineraries. While this pushes us to explore new itineraries for our clients in order to guarantee undisturbed places for finding birdlife and wildlife in general, it’s also a sad testament to how our land is changing.
We can readily see the changes in the Chilean Hillstar (in the north of Chile) with the plight of the hummingbird that once was common and widespread through the valleys and is now, unfortunately, an endangered species, facing a real and high risk of extinction in the next years.
The constant reduction of habitats, the anthropogenic pressures, and the introduction of exotic species (such as the introduction of dogs to various regions) are threatening efforts to ensure that our natural attractions, which have inspired the minds and dreams of thousands of travelers around the world, continue into the next generation.
We, as Chileans, must work so that in the future, there is the possibility to keep creating positive economic impact through responsible travel activities.
I am convinced that travel can be one of the most powerful tools for conservation and for regeneration of natural heritage and cultural identity, but our authorities will also need to take a solid position in this debate – and soon! Yes, sometimes choosing between short-term development and long-term growth is difficult, but it can be done with the support of a responsible travel industry.
Having more responsible travelers visiting our beautiful country and participating in conservation projects can help to increase demand for sustainability and, perhaps for the government authorities, be a turning point for the preservation of our natural habitats. For its not just the enjoyment of Chileans at stake – it’s for the enjoyment of the rest of the world.