Kawesqar woman weaving a basket

Kawésqar Community Tourism & Empowerment Project

Community-run tourism to celebrate the forgotten heritage of Patagonia’s indigenous people

While best known for its iconic glaciers and peaks, Torres del Paine and its gateway community of Puerto Natales also possess a rich cultural heritage. Much of this heritage is rooted in the history and traditions of the region’s indigenous people – the Kawésqar. A seafaring, nomadic people, the Kawésqar were among the first inhabitants of southern Chile’s channels and fjords. Today, only 13 Kawésqar communities remain across the Magallanes region.  

Like many first peoples, the Kawesqár have been marginalized from the local tourism economy. Despite the fact that over 260,000 tourists visit Torres del Paine each year, few learn about the Kawésqar and their unique heritage. Traditions and stories of the past tend to be overshadowed by the dramatic natural landscapes the area is known for. The predominant historical narrative centers around the figure of the gaucho, cowboys descended from European immigrants.

Our Role

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is working with members of the Kawésqar pueblo to revitalize their culture through a series of capacity-building, tourism, and entrepreneurship trainings. Ultimately, this project will allow the participating communities to build a common narrative and create a space where Kawésqar can share their rich history and traditions with visitors and residents. The project imagines Kawésqar exchanging their traditions with tourists, and selling their food, art, and guide services. The Legacy Fund and its partners will equip Kawésqar communities with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustainably manage and develop their own tourism products.

This indigenous empowerment project aims to enhance destination sustainability by:

  • Raising awareness and increasing appreciation of the region’s indigenous heritage
  • Preserving and celebrating waning cultural traditions
  • Expanding income generating opportunities for the Kawésqar people
  • Providing a more diverse, immersive, and authentic visitor experience

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation. Sustainable Travel International continues to manage the Legacy Fund’s on-the-ground efforts to ensure a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.

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Our Partners

  • Kawesqar
  • Evoluzion

Related Work

Repairing Eroded Trails

Restoring Torres del Paine’s most popular trekking route, the Base Torres trail.

Improving Recycling Infrastructure

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park.

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New industry guidelines support child protection and welfare in tourism

The new Child Welfare Guidelines launched by G Adventures, Planeterra, and ChildSafe are a useful sustainability tool for tourism businesses

These days, more and more travelers are seeking authentic and transformative experiences that bring them face-to-face with local communities and immerse them in the local culture.  However, as this desire for community-based experiences and social impact travel grows, so do the risks for children.

Giving locals a voice in tourism development in St. Kitts

Implementing an island-wide resident survey to gauge community perceptions of tourism

Employing 1 in 10 people globally, tourism has the potential to benefit a large number of people. By creating jobs, driving infrastructure improvements, and promoting inclusive growth, tourism is a powerful tool to fight poverty and foster community development.

With all these benefits, one might assume that local residents would be fully supportive of tourism in their backyards. The problem is that sometimes tourism development has the opposite effect and diminishes local quality of life. Without proper planning, tourism growth can bring about new challenges for locals, such as unaffordable housing prices, dwindling resources, and a loss of cultural authenticity. Over the last year, there’s been increasing global discussion around the issue of “overtourism” and its consequences in more popular destinations, where some communities are literally telling tourists to go home.

How then does a destination prevent this situation from happening before it’s too late? It all comes down to finding the balance between tourism growth and local needs.

To ensure that tourism enriches local communities, destination managers must pay attention to resident concerns and engage them in development plans. Happy residents play a major part in creating an enjoyable visitor experience and successful tourism industry. When residents win, everyone wins.

Our Role

The Caribbean island of St. Kitts is a destination that is well aware of the importance of sustainable, community-driven tourism. The warm and welcoming Kittitian people are undeniably the heart and soul of the island. The St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism is working to make sure that they are at the heart of tourism as well, by giving them a voice in development.

To gauge local attitudes toward tourism, Sustainable Travel International supported the Ministry in administering a resident survey in July 2017. This was the first survey of this kind in St. Kitts. Over 320 Kittitians, representing all parishes and demographics completed the survey.  The results examine how well tourism in St. Kitts is meeting local needs, creating opportunities for residents, and impacting their quality of life.

Understanding resident concerns is the starting point. The next step is taking action to actually address any existing or potential issues. The Ministry is using the survey findings to guide policy and program interventions, making it a valuable tool for community development.

Of course, as tourism grows and the destination changes, residents’ feelings and priorities will change as well. Engaging residents should be an ongoing process. We will continue to support the Ministry to create additional avenues for residents to share their opinions and be involved in decision-making, as well as implement future surveys to monitor changes over time.To learn more about the other ways that St. Kitts is encouraging sustainable development and community-based tourism, click here.

Header Photo Credit: St. Kitts Tourism

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Related Work

St. Kitts

Learn more about how we’re helping St. Kitts work towards a more sustainable future.

People & Culture

Learn more about how we’re working to ensure that tourism development supports communities and improves local quality of life.

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The St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council: An Innovative Model For Destination-wide Sustainable Tourism Cooperation

When we think of tourism, we often think of hotels, airlines, restaurants, attractions, and tour guides. But the industry is far more complex than this and includes many more stakeholders beyond what we see on the surface. For instance, how do the roads you travel on get built? What happens to your trash after you dispose of it? And who maintains the parks and beaches you visit?  In addition to the more obvious participants, tourism also involves government departments and agencies, local and global NGOs, and host communities.