What’s it all about? On a page entitled ‘Why Indigenous Tourism?’ of a website devoted to the Red Indígena de Turismo de México (Network of Mexican Indigenous Tourism), the first paragraph cuts right to the chase:
“For rural and indigenous companies, venturing into the tourism industry is like beginning an endless and ongoing process of developing specific skills and strategies, and then of recognizing that one must still engage in a constant struggle to try not to be excluded from the market. Despite indigenous tourism’s greatest strength being the distinguishing qualities it offers to and shares with tourists, this advantage is not decisive in positioning an indigenous tourism company, as the company’s survival is limited by its ability to sustain a steady income, promote itself, disseminate information and plan ahead.”
In short, in a world that jumps first and highest at anything shiny and new, the road to success can be very slow for organizations that represent the beauty of adobe and yesteryear.
While what indigenous tourism operators offer is certainly increasingly in demand – the experience of traditional lifestyles, deep insight into ancient cultures and practices, a chance to live history – it still caters to a relatively small minority of travelers. Just as importantly, it purposefully endeavors not to attract mass tourism numbers, as the social, cultural and environmental sustainability of the indigenous hosts’ own lifestyles is as much a part of the equation as the economic value of the public outreach.
Challenging topics such as this and a great deal more will be part of the discussion during Indigenous Peoples Week, which takes place from August 5 to 11, 2013. It purposefully includes August 9th, which is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, established by the United Nations as a way to celebrate the stories, cultures and unique identities of indigenous peoples around the world.
A Storytelling Unconference
This year’s Indigenous Peoples Week is the third annual gathering (we wrote about it the last two years too), the goal of which continues to be to raise awareness of indigenous tourism options for travelers and to improve digital literacy skills among the indigenous tourism providers themselves.
As a free, open and online unconference, Indigenous Peoples Week makes it easy to take part. Everyone’s invited, of course. The circle of conversation includes both indigenous and non-indigenous partners, as long as there’s an interest or practice in the primary subject, as well as subjects like nature conservation, crafts, cultural heritage and history, food and storytelling. Special thought will be given to ‘gameification,’ which is to have fun during the event (and not to be confused with ‘gamification’), and controversies, or the frank exploration of issues critical to indigenous tourism.
In keeping with the desire to teach about digital media and use it to disseminate information about indigenous tourism, collaborative participation through social media and the web is strongly encouraged during Indigenous Peoples Week. This year the focus will be on monitoring the #IPW3 hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Google+; scheduled candid exchanges using Google Hangouts on Air; and collaborative notetaking using Google docs.
New This Year
When asked to share his thoughts about how Indigenous Peoples Week had grown since its inception, Ron Mader of Planeta.com, the engine behind the weeklong happening, reported that, “In reflection, Year One (2011) was about establishing presence, putting the topics into context. Year two (2012) built on that awareness and showcased individual efforts around the world. In 2013 we’re continuing to build not only on previous Indigenous Peoples Weeks, but also the discussion of indigenous peoples during February’s Responsible Tourism Week.”
Specifically, Mader advised that this year he’d like to see the assembly of two resources: first, a top-10 list of indigenous tourism experiences for first-time visitors to places including Las Vegas, USA, Mexico and Australia; and second, a top-10 playlist of programs and podcasts about indigenous culture and tourism.
Mader would also like to review the long-term financial sustainability of Indigenous Peoples Week, which thus far has been mostly free. He wonders how to step beyond the important emotional boost he got when, as a function of Indigenous Peoples Week 2012, he was invited to facilitate a workshop at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was webcast live from Hyderabad, India.
“That might not sound like much,” continued Mader, “but it means the world to me. We were able to bridge not only the natural and virtual worlds via face-to-face networking and livestreaming video, but we were able to deepen the dialogue among activists for indigenous concerns and tourism. Frankly, the activists have been right and quite able to criticize exploitation in tourism, but they have a limited skill set when it comes to finding and developing benefits through tourism. The workshop presented in Hyderabad showed practical examples from leading companies run by indigenous peoples and working with indigenous peoples.”
How You Can Participate in Indigenous Peoples Week
Whatever you do, there’s no need to wait until next Monday. The #IPW3 conversations have already begun. This week, next week and all throughout the year, you might:
* Be engaged. Facilitate the creation of an event around indigenous culture: organize a local walk; support staff, students and colleagues with resources; allocate time for an indigenous language class.
* Take part in more indigenous tourism. Book tours or visits with indigenous guides and tour companies that engage directly with indigenous communities. Plan time in museums that showcase or work with indigenous peoples. Support indigenous artists and artisans by buying their work, directly from them if possible.
* Share the word. Write and publish a story about your own indigenous culture or your first (or enduring) contact with another one. Comment on other stories you find that do the same. Create and share bi- or multilingual posters for Indigenous Peoples Week.
* Be attentive, be creative, be generous, be curious and be empathetic.