Tourism in Patagonia: Where are we headed?

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By Juan Marambio
Marambio es director of sustainability for Explora Hotels and executive director of Travolution.org.
 
Editors Note: The following is from Issue 25.
 
Over the past 20 years, Patagonia has become world famous. Its breathtaking nature, gaucho culture and indigenous peoples have increasingly motivated travelers from all over the world to visit this place, which for many is seen as the "last corner of the planet.” This rise has gone hand in hand with a sustained and increasing growth of the tourism sector, both in iconic places (such as Torres del Paine) and in other emerging sectors (such as the Aysén Region and Tierra del Fuego). The increase in visitors has also been accompanied by a growing increase in the number of inhabitants - even more so in the high season – and along with that comes the pressure exerted on the ecosystems by human activities.
 
Meanwhile, in recent years, the impacts of climate change on the area have become increasingly apparent: reduced rainfall, melting ice and receding glaciers, and perhaps one of the most troublesome impacts of all; large forest fires. It is impossible to forget the last two major fires in Torres del Paine National Park, both caused by the irresponsible actions of tourists and affecting a significant extension of land, generating ecological impacts on flora and fauna that will take hundreds of years to recover from. 
 
In this context, the covid-19 pandemic, which forced a halt to tourism for more than a year and a half, has been a respite for ecosystems and an opportunity for the tourism sector to reflect. Although tourism companies are in an unprecedented financial crisis because of this extended break, many have taken the opportunity to analyze how they can develop a more sustainable product that is more in line with the social and environmental needs of this great region.   
 
At Explora, this year we have rebranded, a move through which we have incorporated the care and protection of nature to our company goal: Explora as a path to conservation. This change responds to the realization that tourism has important impacts on the regions, and that we cannot ignore them. In fact, we must be part of the solution and care for the regions, both environmentally, as well as socially and economically. Thus, we are forging alliances with important conservation organizations to create private conservation reserves, and we have also been awarded a tourism license to Patagonia National Park, convinced that we can contribute both to the conservation of this park and to a model of virtuous public-private conservation alliances. 
 
But no one can face this alone, neither climate change, nor the negative impacts of tourism in a region. Therefore, coordinated actions and collaboration are key if tourism in Patagonia is to move forward in a sustainable manner. In this regard, the "Glasgow Declaration" for climate action in tourism is an example of a global initiative, which seeks to promote joint work between tourism companies to combat global warming and its effects. It is highly important that all tourism operators in Patagonia should join this cause. 
 
As well, the work carried out by trade organizations and tourism associations, together with public organizations and the scientific community, are key to taking care of Patagonia. The future of tourism in Patagonia depends directly on our ability to join forces to research, learn and share knowledge about ecosystems, their interrelationships and how to protect them. We must create collaborative development plans, giving life to the tourism sector and local economies while at the same time act powerfully, urgently, and decisively toward caring for nature and cultural heritage. We must act responsibly in every way, even inviting travelers to join in the efforts to care for Patagonia, so that not only they, but also future travelers and inhabitants of this great country, can enjoy what our ancestors experienced and what we also enjoy today as we travel through Patagonia. 
 
 
 
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