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Helping Small Economies with Responsible Tourism

San Juan’s rich cuisine legacy has captivated the imaginations of culinary heroes and foodies alike for hundreds for years, forging a diverse and dynamic scene which is integrated into every part of San Juan lifestyle. Since so much of its food culture and staple dishes rely on the bounty of land and sea, the farmer and the fisherman alike are among the most important members of San Juan society. Yet while local goods and produce have formed an intricate part of the social and economic framework of the region for several generations, the expanse of international trade and imported goods have partly disrupted this integral framework throughout the Caribbean. But an ever-growing demand to support local economies and celebrate the Puerto Rico’s natural food heritage is helping local farmers and fishermen to enjoy a greater amount of stability and share their passion for cultivating the sea and soil which their ancestors have shaped for so long. Part of the answer lies in the concept of ecotourism.
Working Towards a Sustainable Relationship Between Travelers and Locals
The Caribbean has long been a place of avid activity since widespread colonization began. European empires vying for political advantage, the displacement of natives and the import of a huge slave industry would change the face of the Caribbean forever. But these were not the only occurrences which have had a dramatic – and often detrimental – effect. Prized for its pristine beaches and crystal, turquoise waters, the Caribbean is one of the world’s most sough-after destinations, and governments, organizations and businesses alike have transformed the once remote region into a major tourist hotspot. Combine this with international trade, and in many circumstances, the locals lose out. Environmental destruction and social and economical upheaval have made the Caribbean a difficult place to live for many people, while seamless and paradise-like for those who can vacation there.
But things are now changing, and with the rise of ecotourism, more and more people around the world are interested in an experience which is more grass-roots and down to earth, and one which directly benefits local businesses as well. Ecotourism is the term applied to a set of principles which endeavor to provide the conscientious traveler with an authentic experience while leaving minimal impact on the environment, and maximum positive impact on conservation and the economies of local communities. These principles vary from circumstance to circumstance, but in general they involve businesses like resorts investing in renewable energy and waste reduction schemes, even buying carbon credits, contributing to the conservation of a region, empowering local communities to have a direct voice in decision making, and specifically focusing on the local issues as well as social structures of a region. Travelers are responsible as well, by reducing their impact while traveling and making conscientious choices to buy locally-sourced food and goods, for example. In many ways, travelers prefer the ecotourist approach because it is more revealing than the somewhat bubble-like universe of mainstream resort atmospheres, and it is also more readily affordable. Basically, one could argue ecotourism works on the principles of common sense and courtesy – treat people and the environment as one would their own family, with respect and reverence.
Celebrating a History of Cultural Delights
So how can a venture like ecotourism benefit economies like those in San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico? There are a myriad of ways to choose from. But vacation styles like food tours are massively productive in drawing attention to the nature of the food industry right at home and celebrating the hard work of local farmers and fisherman, as well as engaging the visitor in a direct relationship with the local cuisine. Money spent is directly going towards these economies and travelers can appreciate the time and effort taken to cultivate such a product, as well as revel in the atmosphere of lively farmers’ markets and food festivals. By purchasing local goods and produce, tourists are also able to help keep the prices down, thus keeping it accessible for other locals to purchase food as well. And, perhaps most importantly for some, travelers can get a true taste of the island’s best food.
At San Juan Food Tours, the most important priority is to ensure that guests enjoy a unique and authentic experience, and one which positively benefits the economies of those around us. In this day and age, thinking beyond our needs and embracing an equal relationship with the places we visit is instrumental in working towards a future in which tourism leads to the flourishing of a community, rather than the dwindling of it.
Post written by foodie and travel writer Anne Meades


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