International airport planned near site. Responsible Travel chief executive Justin Francis argues for opposition
Machu Picchu is one of those ‘bucket list’, ‘must do’ ‘once in a lifetime’ destinations that gets travellers and tourists tingling with anticipation.
That is why the Peruvian government has sanctioned an international airport to be built in the town of Chinchero, right at the entrance to the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Money talks and Machu Picchu is the Peruvian cash cow that just keeps on giving.
But what is the real cost?
Allowing more people near, instant access to Machu Picchu, via direct flights from Latin America and the US, will put immense strain on a site that already receives more than 1.5 million visitors a year. UNESCO already considers the current tourist count double its recommendations.
Rather than applying for Inca Trail trekking permits that limit the amount of footfall, day trippers will be able to fly in, snap a selfie and fly out. Although a photo on the Inca ruins will, no doubt, increase a visitor’s personal ‘brand’ it will do the opposite for the revered reputation of the site.
Diminishing the mysticism of Machu Picchu might well put off travellers who might have been interested in spending more time in Peru.
These are the people that Peru should see as potential travelling ambassadors; longer term visitors who are spreading the wealth and placing their hard-earned money into the pockets of local Peruvians rather than only profiting airline companies.
Tom Harari, responsible tourism manager for Exodus Travels, says: “Efforts need to be made to control the number of visitors to Machu Picchu and building a new airport will do the exact opposite.
“It may also encourage more day trippers who have a far less positive impact on the local economy as they will spend less time, not use local accommodation or other services, so have a lower spend.”
The environmental impact – including air and noise pollution – isn’t going to have a positive outcome on stone structures that have stood since the 15th century.
Building the airport at Chinchero, 30 kms from Cusco and 60 kms from Machu Picchu, is going to eat into the ancient Inca terraces and hiking trails that form the start of the Sacred Valley.
Flights are also expected to fly low over the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo which will destroy the reverence of the ruins and place further stress on the stability of this lesser-known site.
Laura Rendell-Dunn, spokesperson for Journey Latin America, comments: “Chinchero is a small town with an authentic and vibrant Sunday market located deep in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
“A new airport would not only have devastating consequences on the environment but also would severely impact on the local communities and their indigenous cultural traditions.”
One side of the argument is that the airport will alleviate poverty among local Peruvians by providing employment.
Land ownership is also a big financial factor and lots of smallholdings and farmland has already been sold off to the developers, including a $35 million deal struck with the indigenous Yanacona people who have sold off practically all their land and, some might say, their cultural inheritance.
Perhaps if Peru placed more value on other areas of the country it would see a reduction in poverty across the board.
Cities like Iquitos, the UNESCO site of Arequipa, Puna, Lima and Lake Titicaca are all places that could be promoted by Peru to encourage travellers to explore elsewhere rather than solely focusing all the efforts around just one attraction.
If you feel the same way, join Responsible Travel and sign our petition, and voice your concern about an international airport at Machu Picchu not being the way forward for future generations.
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