By: Cécile Robert, International Seminar Coordinator, Uniterra Program
Not every student would be willing to spend their summer holidays producing research reports on sustainable tourism. But for the 21 participants of the 2017 International Seminar in Bolivia, it was a no-brainer. They happily traded in their vacation plans because they knew these reports could be helpful to those working to advance local development efforts.
Just as temperatures were beginning to rise in Canada, 11 students from Canada dug out their winter jackets and hopped on a plane to join 10 of their peers from Bolivia. Arriving at the administrative capital of Bolivia, La Paz, the students found themselves 3,600 meters above sea level, where average temperatures were just 15 degrees celsius. But the change in altitude and weather did little to damper their spirits. Over the course of four weeks, they worked tirelessly to reflect upon the issues and opportunities identified by those working in the tourism sector in Bolivia.
Today, this sector accounts for less than 7% of the country’s GDP. Bolivia, however, has a great deal to offer to potential travellers, such as an incredible diversity of landscapes and a deeply rich culture, both of which could be better leveraged to create more economic opportunities for Bolivians.
Divided into three research groups, the 21 Seminar participants sought to better understand how the communities of Pampalarama and Llaullini, both located less than two hours from La Paz, could increase their appeal and gain greater benefits from sustainable tourism. Currently, these communities rely primarily on livestock for income, raising camelids (such as llamas and alpacas) and sheep. They also benefit from employment opportunities in peat exploitation, mining, and hydroelectric dams, but they do not take full advantage of their tourism potential.
Each student group chose to address this issue from a different perspective. In Llaullini, where tourism is virtually non-existent in the village, but booming in nearby Huyana Potosi, the research group focused on the untapped potential of community and sustainable tourism. In Pampalarama, where an eco-hostel already exists, one group examined existing tourism management (with an emphasis on sustainability and community inclusion) while the other explored the unique potential for youth inclusion.
After setting forth their hypotheses, and establishing indicators to confirm or disprove them, participants developed their methodologies (e.g. surveys, semi-directed interviews, focus groups, and observation) to collect data during their field research. Once research was completed, they prepared three reports which were presented and submitted to local partners of the Uniterra program, including representatives of La Paz Maravillosa, the municipal tourist development agency.
The reports prepared by the 21 young leaders presented an analysis of the gaps and opportunities for tourism activity in the communities of Pampalarama and Llaulluni. They contained key recommendations for environmental protection; communication and marketing; youth inclusion; infrastructure and transportation; skills-training for tourism providers (e.g. in food handling, customer service, guide services, and foreign languages); building relationships between communities and with other organizations; and the importance of responsible management with a vision for the future.
The commitment, dynamism, and innovative spirit of these youth, which is the essence of the International Seminar, was absolutely incredible to witness during these four weeks of intensive work. The bold and innovative recommendations they leave behind are the result of an extremely rigorous effort of research and analysis. These recommendations will be carefully explored and implemented over the months and years ahead, in collaboration with local Uniterra partners.
The 71st International Seminar has been an unforgettable learning opportunity for this year’s 21 participants. Since 1948, the Seminar has provided a space for youth to build bridges towards a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and creative world. It also helps youth to build their leadership skills and become development advocates in their fields of study and in their communities.
Many thanks to this year’s participants!