Would you spend your vacation in a place with roads in poor condition, no cellphone signal or internet for the chance to enjoy verdant mountains, clean air, crystalline waters, a pleasant climate and simple meals prepared with fresh local ingredients?
Even a decade later, 54-year-old Paulina Stange is still surprised by the number of people who would gladly spend their holiday in Urubici, a rural village with a population of 10,000 in Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil.
"I began to receive visitors in a simple house without electricity 10 kilometers from my farm. They liked the tranquility,” recalls Paulina. Since then, facilities have improved considerably: the telephone still does not work properly, but the road that goes through Urubici is now in excellent condition and visitors can use a portable modem to connect to the internet.
Paulina no longer farms. She now has four chalets (with electricity!) and a colonial café at the inn she opened in 2010 on her farm, where the local landscape and culture (a mix of Brazilian, German, Italian and Latvian) attract growing numbers of tourists.
Tourism with identity
The history and challenges of the Stange family are common to many families in Latin America and rural communities around the world that have the potential to attract travelers. That is good news for the development of communities such as Urubici, as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) stated when it declared 2014 as the year of small communities.
After all, the work of transporting, housing and feeding tourists accounts for nearly 10 percent of global GDP, generates revenues of more than US$ 1.3 billion (equivalent to 30 percent of world service exports) and creates one of every 11 jobs. Why not extend these benefits to small communities that need to improve their standard of living?
"Tourism can be a tool which allows communities to pursue development without losing their identity, while generating income and opportunities promoting local development, including in rural areas, thus fighting migration to cities,” according to the UNWTO.
The Organization also stressed that, besides fighting poverty, tourism promotes gender equality —it gives employment and income opportunities to women – sustainability and associations for development.
The UNWTO is not the only international organization that recognizes the power of tourism to fight poverty: the World Bank is also supporting the industry through a series of projects in Brazil, Peru, Panama and other Latin American countries.