Indigenous Tourism and Economic Development: Building Community to Promote Development in the Valley of Liquiñe, Chile

by Derek Brinks

This study was conducted to understand tourism’s potential for development in an indigenous community. Can indigenous tourism projects bring development without sacrificing the local community’s culture, their belief system, and the environment that sustains their identity? What implications does this have for their political agency in the future? Fieldwork was conducted in the Valley of Liquiñe, Chile, with a Mapuche tourism initiative emphasizing ecotourism with a distinctive local culture. In order to achieve development that strengthens the local culture, develops sustainably with the environment, and provides for economic benefit throughout the community, this study identifies two necessary variables. First, local control of tourism is vital. Local leadership must be in control of the development of the tourism project, and the tourism enterprises must be locally owned. All involved must have the autonomy to make decisions for the future development of the community. Second, social capital must be present to strengthen local institutions and keep the tourism project on track. If the community has fostered this trust, cooperation and reciprocity, local institutions will develop to keep tourism development positive and manage relations with the government and external forces. Furthermore, when these factors are present, it seems that an indigenous tourism project is capable of empowering the community politically. Over the course of this research, it became clear that indigenous tourism, when implemented with local control and social capital, has the potential to provide development with identity and bring greater equality in politics. By developing economic power and organizing the community around a collective identity, tourism is empowering the Mapuche of Liquiñe to assert greater agency in Chilean politics.