World Tourism Day: Celebrating the Rise of Alternative Tourism

World Tourism Day: Celebrating the Rise of Alternative Tourism

Written by Justine Abigail Yu and Will Clarke, OGHQ

Our mission is to change the way the world travels. At Operation Groundswell, we’re firm believers in the power and potential for travel to pave the way for a more equitable, sustainable, and just world.

Mass tourism at its current state, however, often deeply damages the environment and cultural identities without actually fiscally supporting or building local economies. That’s why we’re always working with local, grassroots organizations that are harnessing tourism as a way to develop their communities from the ground up in a responsible and equitable way.

On World Tourism Day — a day that aims at fostering awareness of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political, and economic value — we want to highlight the inspiring grassroots organizations, initiatives, and communities that we’ve had the privilege of working with across the globe. They may be small in size, but their impact on the environment, their home communities, and our backpacktivists is incredibly profound.

Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism Initiative (CBT), Cambodia

While the majority of tourists in Cambodia flock to the immense temple complex of Angkor, the temple at Banteay Chhmar goes largely unvisited. Off the beaten path and considered the “forgotten” temple, Banteay Chhmar is one of Cambodia’s national treasures. It rivals the mighty Angkor Wat with its intricate and awe-inspiring bas-reliefs that depict the rich history of the Angkor Empire. Beyond the ancient architecture, Banteay Chhmar is home to a vibrant community that has remained largely the same for the past 800 years.

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The Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism Group (CBT) is a social business committed to the development of a sustainable tourism economy around the ancient and beautiful temple of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia. Their goal is to harness the rapid growth of tourism as an enabler of economic and social development, improving the livelihoods of the rural Banteay Chhmar community while protecting its cultural heritage.

The CBT channels the growing income of tourism directly into the community through income-generating projects for various occupational groups (such as homestay owners, cooks, kuyon drivers, and traditional musicians). Its initiatives strike a delicate and productive balance between the needs of the local community, the preservation of the massive 12th-century temple complex, and the demands of increasing numbers of tourists.

For the past few years, Banteay Chhmar has become our second home with a trusted network of family and friends. Our participants have had the unique opportunity to learn about the community’s history and customs, as well as their alternative model of tourism. Each year, our time with Banteay Chhmar has given us an intimate glimpse of the daily lives of our hosts while supporting true grassroots development.

For more information about the Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism Group, visit their website at www.visitbanteaychhmar.org.

Union Chahuay, Peru

Chahuay is a small town in southern Peru that is working to create a sustainable tourism industry within their community. Even more off the beaten path than Banteay Chhmar, the community of Union Chahuay only sees 200 visitors (mostly Peruvians) a year compared to the whopping 2,500 that visit Machu Picchu every day (a daily limit that has only recently been implemented to curb the negative effects of such mass tourism).

Every year, our teams in Peru spend time with this community to learn about the local indigenous culture, Andean history, traditional agricultural practices, and Lake Pomacanchi. Chahuay’s small but growing tourism initiative is the perfect space for cross-cultural exchange and for a chance to see another side of Peru that few travellers ever experience.

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Beyond the intensely immersive experience, Chahuay is also home to Wakra Pukara, an ancient Incan ruin that rivals its more famed counterpart of Machu Picchu. This hidden gem is a true archaeological wonder and our friends in Chahuay guide us on our trek, explaining its role in the development of agriculture and astronomical observations during ancient times.

Our experiences in Chahuay are unrivalled and we are proud to support and stand in solidarity with such a vibrant and proud indigenous community.

For more information on Chahuay, click here.

Spiti Ecosphere, India

Spiti, meaning ‘a world within a world’, is a desert mountain valley tucked away in the high reaches of the Himalayan mountain range. It’s a place of infinite wonder, and Operation Groundswell has been lucky enough to visit this special corner of the world for the past few years.

During our time in the Himalayas, we’ve partnered with a unique organization called Spiti Ecosphere whose mission and values so closely align with ours. Ecosphere is a social enterprise that supports the local communities of the Spiti Valley region through income-generating initiatives, while also conserving the natural resources that are becoming increasingly scarce in the area.

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Focusing on responsible eco-tourism, Ecosphere aims to protect the region’s cultural identity and heritage by facilitating homestay experiences, exploring the traditional Spitian lifestyle, and teaching Buddhist traditions and beliefs that are common to the region.

Ecosphere also actively works on conservation projects such as the building of green houses, and solar and wind energy alternatives. They also promote indigenous produce to tourists as a way of conserving the region’s diverse crops and fruits, promoting more sustainable and organic agriculture, and supporting the livelihoods of those who the local community.

With such a diverse range of projects and initiatives, Spiti Ecosphere is a clear leader in alternative and responsible tourism. To learn more about their inspiring work, visit www.spitiecosphere.com.

Kausay Punku, Peru

Kausay Punku, also known as “The Gate of Life”, is an eco-center and organic farm founded and run by our long term partners, the Ccapa family. Situated in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, the Ccapa brothers, Dario and Arcadio, are using their center as an educational space to protect their Incan cultural history, traditions, and way of life.

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After seeing the effects that chemicals and pesticides were having on their land and soil, the Ccapa brothers decided to try something different and get back to their roots. Today, Kausay Punku serves as a conservatory for ancient grains and seeds, a school of traditional and organic agricultural practices, and a place of practice for traditional Andean medicine.

Our teams have been working with the Ccapa family for years to support the development of their eco-center, from building physical infrastructure that will serve as a teaching space for surrounding communities to constructing compost toilets. Most importantly, our time at Kausay Punku has given us an intimate look into, and a deep understanding of, sustainable agricultural methods, cuisine in the sierra, traditional medicine, and the real history of the Incas.

Volunteers are welcomed to assist with the building of the space and casual visitors are also encouraged to learn more about the traditional Incan way of life. Preservation of traditional agricultural practices and Incan culture is so important in a rapidly changing world, and the Ccapa family is working tirelessly to ensure the way of life for their people will continue for generations to come.

To learn more about Kausay Punku, visit the family’s personal blog.


At Operation Groundswell, we’re proud to support organizations and communities all across the globe that are pushing the boundaries towards ethical and responsible tourism. To learn more about our partners and our philosophy on ethical travel, visit www.operationgroundswell.com.

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