Photo of the Week: Túcume Archaeological Site

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Photo of the Week: Tucumé Archaeological Site

This week we bring you a photo from a recent trip made by a group of Harvard students to the Tucumé Archaeological Site in Northern Peru. Led by Solsiré Cusicanqui and Carlos Wester, the students learned about the traditional craft methods used by weavers to sustain local economic development and visited sites such as the above along the way. Part of the Lambayeque Valley, this region is home to thousands of monumental sites similar to Tucumé.

Watch this space next week for more photos and find out exactly what the group got up to on the trip!

San Jose de Moro Archaeological Program Wins First International “Tourism Cares” Award!

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San Jose de Moro Archaeological Program is the winner of the first International Turismo Cuida/Tourism Cares Contest!

SPI’s San Jose de Moro, Peru project was awarded recently the First International Tourism Cares/Turismo Cuida award. Sponsored by the world’s leading travel and tourism companies, the award is given for outstanding work in sustainability and preservation, both of which are critical to SPI’s mission. The award recognizes both the job creation (22 new permanent jobs!) from tourist development and the resultant end to looting at the site. The accompanying $15,000 grant will aid our continued work on sustainable tourism and economic, social and cultural development at Moro.

Congratulations to all of those involved on their hard work.

Photo of the Week: Throwing Some Shapes

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Photo of the Week: Throwing Some Shapes

This week’s snapshot shows the lighter side to cultural heritage preservation!

Taken at the SPI project site of San Jose de Moro, Peru, a group taking part in the annual field school enjoy the Peruvian sunset.

Registration is still open for the 2013 field season – spread the word!

Photo of the Week: Bandurria Celebrates!

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Bandurria Celebrates!

As April 18th is International Day of Monuments and Sites we just had to post our Photo of the Week a day early!

This week’s photo shows the community of Bandurria celebrateing as work is now full steam ahead! Following our People Not Stones 2013 crowd funding campaign, we are well on our way to the construction of a communal artisan training and production centre  a local store and an “artisans’ quarter” in the form of a number of house-workshops, one for each family in the community. These workshops will be located adjacent to the archaeological site where four pyramids almost 5,500 years old are located.

Photo of the Week

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Photo of the Week

We know why this guy seems so happy! He’s just as excited as us about SPI’s upcoming project crowd funding campaign which goes live next week! Our campaign will raise money for our two new project sites; Bandurria and Chotuna-Chornancap. All contributions will help alleviate poverty in these two communities and sustainably preserve the stunning cultural heritage that remains there. With less than a week to Valentine’s Day, why not make a contribution to this worthy cause in the name of a loved one? He already has…!

Context Travel Honors SPI and Shares its Mission of Sustainability

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Guest Blog Post by Context Travel's Paul Bennett

These past holidays, Context Travel honored SPI with its annual charitable gift. Context Travel is a travel company dedicated to sustainable solutions that preserve our shared global heritage for future generations. Our thanks goes out to Context for that honor and please read on to hear about another dynamic, growing organization interested in saving sites and transforming lives.

Sustaining Cities the Context Way

by Paul Bennett

In the mid 1990s I wrote an article for National Geographic Adventure about “ecotourism.” At that time, the concept of sustainability and sustainable travel—a broader, more inclusive idea that included consideration of cultural preservation and local communities—was nascent. The focus was on nature and fragile ecosystems. My piece zeroed in on an ecolodge deep in the Amazon jungle that was doing some interesting things with the local indigenous tribe. But, it was an ecolodge nonetheless. Everyone assumed that sustainable travel was about nature.

We’ve come a long way since then. I’ve moved on out of journalism (for the most part) to run my own travel company that considers sustainability a critical part of our mission. We don’t do nature.

Context is an urban walking tour company. We have bases in five cities (Philadelphia, London, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul) and run walks in 16 more, including Barcelona, Beijing, Boston and a bunch in between (not all beginning with B). When we first started out ten years ago we considered ourselves a rogue: Instead of employing guides, we’d work with scholars. Instead of leading huge groups, we’d limit ours to six. Instead of doing tours at all, we’d do something we called “walking seminars,” an in-depth alternative.

We still consider ourselves outsiders to the travel industry, which is partly why we’ve gravitated towards a sustainable approach. Everyone in our organization—from our nine full-time staff to the 300+ docent-scholars who lead our walks—care deeply about the cities where we live and work; and none of us want to be involved in anything that compromises their cultural integrity or human fabric.

But tourism is a compromise. There’s no way around it. Every year millions of tourists traipse through the fragile archaeological monuments of Rome or Istanbul, putting far more pressure on the physical infrastructure than local administrations can handle. But, there’s more to the story than the constant struggle to preserve and conserve the great monuments and artworks of Paris, Berlin, or Naples. As the tourism industry grows—and this year the industry outpaced global GDP—surpassing the automotive to become one of the largest industries on the planet, huge crowds also impact the local culture of these great places.

Take Venice, for example. On a given day in Piazza San Marco, when up to 5 or 6 enormous cruise ships can match the city’s entire population (60k), it can be hard to even see the paving on the ground, much less to connect with the piazza’s great history and cultural importance. The Piazza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; yet one learns more about tourism dynamics here than about Venice and its role in world history.

Against this backdrop, we decided to take action and started a sustainable travel initiative in 2007. Part of this program was a simple “greening up” of our business. We went through a popular sustainable travel accrediting scheme, and improved our carbon footprint, offsetting, and recycling. More significantly, we looked closely at our message to our clients, 10,000 of whom take walks each year. We invested in docent training on ways to engage these travelers around conservation and preservation, by making the lasting preservation of a site—or the struggle to preserve it—part of our teaching narrative. And we armed our docents with a set of sustainable recommendations for locally owned restaurants and shops.

We also started the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel, a 501-c3 charitable organization, which invests in projects. We focus on two main areas: projects that mitigate the negative effects of tourism in our cities and projects to boost the positive impact of travel on society at large.

Over the past five years, we have invested in or run a wide range of projects related to the first set. These have included special visits to sites like the Stanton Street Shul on the Lower East Side of Manhattan or to the Chapel des petits augustin in Paris to raise money for their restoration. Our longest program—and the one that I’m personally most proud of—is an apprenticeship program that places young artisans in the workshops of older, establish artisans in Florence. The aim of this program is to help sustain those established workshops—some of which have been in business for hundreds of years—in the face of a changing economic landscape, fueled by tourism, in which it’s increasingly hard for artisans to find apprentices. Partial funding for this comes from an artisans walking tour that we run in Florence.

The Context Foundation’s biggest program, now entering its sixth year, is the Transforming Youth Through Travel scholarship that we cooked up with St. Hope Public Schools in Sacramento, California. Each year, as part of this project, we send 1 or 2 high-achieving inner-city students to Europe for a 10-day cultural boot camp. We send them on walking seminar after walking seminar, engaging them with Ph.D.-level scholars for one of the most in-depth learning experiences out there and a life-changing adventure. The best evidence is the kids themselves, who produce pretty amazing projects about the trip, and then share these projects with their community back home. For most of these kids this is the first time we’ve left California, never mind the U.S.

In the end, our impact is small. We’re a tiny organization, and the Foundation runs on a shoestring. Yet, however incremental our work may be, it fits strongly with a love of the world’s cultural capitals and a recognition that if we stand by and do nothing they will literally drown in bus tours and tourist menus.

Photo of the Week

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Photo of the Week

This week’s photo reveals the exquisite carved detail at Chotuna-Chornancap, Peru. This site, along with Bandurria, Peru pictured in last week’s Photo, is one of SPI’s newest projects beginning in 2013. The site of Chotuna-Chornancap is a stunning 235-acre monumental temple complex where several royal tombs have been discovered. However, the local community currently survives in impoverished conditions where electricity, a sewer system and even clean water is absent. The Sustainable Preservation Initiative will generate a sustainable income for the local community here by facilitating artisan training and production of center. This economic development will empower the local community and incentivise the preservation of this astounding cultural heritage.

Photo of the Week: Bandurria

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Photo of the Week: Bandurria

This week’s photo glimpses a tour by SPI board members to Bandurria, the site of one of SPI’s latest projects beginning in 2013. Bandurria is home to four pyramids nearly 5,500 years old, the earliest monumental architecture of the Americas and excavations at this site have also revealed a cemetery that belonged to a complex society. 2013 will see SPI work to preserve the site and help to develop a community artisan and training center. SPI hopes to improve and maintain the local economy whilst preserving the cultural heritage of Bandurria for future generations.