BirdsChile: A Philosophy of Sustainable Tourism
Llanquihue is not a typical tourist destination: It’s a working-class town situated half-way between the more touristic destinations of Puerto Varas and Frutillar on Lago Llanquihue. Its main industries include meat and dairy processing and salmon farming. The steam stacks from the Nestle plant and the meat processing factory are two notable protrusions on the town’s skyline, and trucks transporting farmed salmon are commonplace on its streets. But Llanquihue has another, less obvious feature: wetlands – urban wetlands specifically. It is this feature that interests Raffaele Di Baise, founder of the birding and nature tour company, BirdsChile, which brings clients to these urban wetlands to view myriad endemic bird species that need the habitat to survive. His company is working with Llanquihue and other communities like it throughout Chile to realize the value of landscapes such as this one.
Raffaele has been working in tourism throughout South America for over 12 years. He and his wife founded BirdsChile in 2009, and now provides tours from the Atacama desert (northern Chile) all the way to Tierra Del Fuego. While talking at their main office in Puerto Varas, he offered to show me one of their projects in Llanquihue.
Llanquihue’s urban wetlands are unique in Chile. It’s a 20-minute drive from Puerto Varas to the banks of Rio Maullin, where over 50% of migratory birds that visit Chile call home in Spring and Summer. Over the years, due to the lack of regulation and lack of ability for the municipality to adequately enforce it, the wetlands have become a dumping ground to trash and especially to waste from salmon farms. Additionally, as a source of income, locals cut trees down from the banks of Rio Maullin to sell as firewood, causing soil erosion and destroyed habitat for wildlife such as the Many-Colored Rush Tyrant, a popular bird for Raffaele’s clients.
Working with the local government and other NGOs such as Legado de Chile and the Catholic University of Santiago, BirdsChile is building a grassroots coalition to restore the wetlands and create public spaces that not only support the company’s activities, but improve the community’s green spaces and quality of life.
A Symbol of Development
Raffaele described the wetland as a symbol of development for the community. And the community is receptive to that development. He said that he would happily pay a local tax to bring clients here (that’s not something you hear businesspeople say very often), because he would know that that money is going towards to maintenance of the local environment and habitat so vital to his business. But he’s realistic about sustainable development, and that you can’t put up restrictions to dumping or harvesting wood without having an outlet to replace those restrictions.
“People are our customers, but they are also our power”Raffaele Di Baise Cuomo
Transforming Communities with Sustainable Tourism Development
“It’s important to show some of the bad,” he said as we drove through a more economically disadvantaged neighborhood in Llanquihue, “not all bad…but some.”
Sustainable tourism has transformative power for everyone involved: travelers, tour operators, and local communities alike. It has the ability to create positive returns economically, socially, culturally and environmentally if done intentionally. “People are our customers, but they are also our power,” saying that if they can bring awareness to their clients that places like this exist, and these places are being destroyed, maybe they will be more willing to speak up and do something about it.
For more information about BirdsChile, including their tour offerings and sustainability programs, visit BirdsChile.com.
To see how Legado de Chile is working with the Llanquihue community, click here.
Quick disclaimer: I did not receive any form of compensation for this post. Unless you count the ride Raffaele gave me to Llanquihue, in which case I was compensated for a little bit of gas money.