Cultural tourism seems to be a slippery slope with travelers. Some think that tourism is an industry that contributes greatly to poverty reduction and economic stability in developing nations. Not everyone agrees, however, as many contests that tourism in the more rural traditional areas are catering to tourists reducing the authenticity of the culture, exploiting locals and their traditions in the process.
I recently had the chance to visit two very different parts of Mexico. One being Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, and the state of Chiapas, where 70% of its people live below the poverty line. Following my visit, I decided to come up with five ways I believe are effective uses of cultural tourism that helps support the local economies in Mexico.
1. Eat local:
Yes, there is a McDonalds almost anywhere you go in Mexico City, but why eat at a place you can go every day back in the states? Being in another country gives you the opportunity to experience new things and local cuisine is both delicious and cheap. Try some of the local tacos stands, most are fresh and quite delicious and will be a good contribution in the end.
2. Learn proper bargaining:
It is a common practice to bargain throughout the state of Mexico and it’s done daily among locals as well. However, do not haggle too far below the asking price. You have to remember that these people do this for a living and need to provide for their families back home.
3. Respect the culture (especially in rural areas):
In states such as Chiapas, most of the population is indigenous (ethnic minorities who have been marginalized as their historical territories became part of the state) and have a different way of doing things. Make sure you ask before you take any pictures of the locals or their children. Many feel that this is disrespectful and inconsiderate. Cameras are also not allowed in church and locals will become very aggressive and demand payment for disrupting their ceremonies.
4. Buy goods from local vendors:
Although some tourists think that visiting rural areas and buying from locals exploits their culture and dilutes their traditional way of life, I feel that we make contributions to them and their family, which they truly appreciate since they cannot survive without income. When I spoke to a local woman here in Chiapas, she discussed the garments that she sells as a hobby and claimed she enjoyed making clothes. She had another job in the city to support her family.
5. Beware of the environment:
Locals in rural areas appreciate their traditional way of life. Try not to leave articles of yours behind and clean up after yourself. The environment is also very important in rural areas, so to reduce your carbon footprint walk through towns instead of taking a taxi or bus.
After witnessing first hand what it’s like to travel and shop in Mexico, these tips should come in handy for the traveler and help stimulate the local economy.