During the month of January, the Municipality of Machupicchu has declared itself in financial emergency, as a result of the measures to avoid the contagion of the coronavirus; measures that have seriously impacted tourism by closing the Archaeological Park of Machupicchu. Due to this closure, the municipality, the population and the businessmen whose income is exclusively due to tourism, are in a delicate situation.
In recent days, the main national newspapers have published worrying notes about the delicate situation that the Municipality of Machupicchu is going through, due to the closure of the archaeological park to tourism.
Remember that in 1950 Machupicchu Pueblo did not exist, the area was known as “Aguas Calientes”. Just because of the increase in tourism in the area in the 70’s and later in 1981 when it was declared “Historic Sanctuary of Peru”, and then, in 1983, when it was declared “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO; Visits to the modern wonder grew exponentially, which prompted the appearance of Machupicchu Pueblo, and consequently of the municipality that, as of 2017, was home to 4525 inhabitants; and, in which there are 247 hotels, 237 restaurants, 200 stores of different types, among many other local businesses.
Machupicchu declared in economic emergency
The main problem of living in Machupicchu Pueblo is that income depends 100% on tourism. There are no industries or commerce in the area that does not depend on tourism; And, this tourism focuses 100% on the Archaeological Park of Machupicchu.
This is the main reason for the serious situation that the Municipality of Machupicchu is going through at this time. Lack of employment is a serious problem today. There is practically no business in the area that does not receive its income directly or indirectly from tourism.
After a year practically lost, the new announcement from the central government is that we are in the middle of a new pandemic, due to the second wave of the coronavirus. Faced with this scenario, the Machupicchu Archaeological Park was completely closed, after it reopened for some months with restrictions, attracting national tourists who were alleviating economic tension in the area. However, before the announcement of the central government, it is once again closed.
Municipality of Machupicchu without money for basic services
Given the current scenario, the budget of the Municipality of Machupicchu for this year is 17,299,756 soles, which is 10 million less than in 2020, the year the pandemic began; and it is 16 million less than in 2019. Let us remember that 85% of the municipality’s budget depends on the resources directly collected.
In the newspaper La República a note was published, informing that, to date, the aforementioned municipality has 214 thousand soles to meet current expenses, however, the expenditure only of the municipal payroll is 550 thousand soles, and, in total for salaries and services 700 thousand soles a month is required, according to information from the commune itself.
Machupicchu, from bonanza to poverty
A couple of years ago, Machupicchu received around one million three hundred thousand tourists a year, between 3,500 to 4,000 tourists daily. The amount of money that arrived daily at Machupicchu was colossal. Hotels, restaurants, discos, shops, bars, and many other companies received a daily injection of large sums of money, which attracted people from all over to work (even if it was eventually) in Machupicchu.
The modern wonder was visited by great celebrities and billionaires who have walked through its square, and have been photographed in the main tourist attraction in Peru.
Such was the bonanza of the people living in Machupicchu Pueblo, of the business owners and workers, that, at the time, abuses began to be committed, such as high prices of some services, people who were denied passage, people who were mistreated, students who were left waiting for hours so that they could enter the archaeological park, and every day complaints were seen through social networks, about classist and racist attitudes, favoring the wealthiest.
It sounds crude, but it’s time to do a “mea culpa.” We cannot close our eyes, when Machupicchu was open and there was excess tourism, the balance was tipped to the one who could pay the most. Now the commune asks for support from the central government so that the current situation can survive before, with the closure of Machupicchu.
Popular dining room for Machupicchu
This lack of employment and money in Machupicchu is forcing dozens of people, daily, to go to the district soup kitchen to get food. People who once lived surrounded by top-notch tourist services now go to the “Una esperanza” dining room that distributes up to 200 servings of lunches daily.
In a note published by RPP Noticias, they cite the mayor of Machupicchu, Darwin Baca León, in reference to the creation of the dining room after the “declaration of financial emergency”, and that this is maintained thanks to the contributions of municipal officials who have part of their salaries for the purchase of food, as well as the restaurant owners who provide part of their inputs, for the operation of this dining room.
Machupicchu, the top of the iceberg
The situation of Machupicchu Pueblo is only the “tip of the iceberg”, because in economic terms a large part of the GDP of the Cusco region comes from tourism.
Although the INEI (National Institute of Statistics and Informatics of Peru) indicators on the national GDP do not include the tourism sector as such, sectors that depend mainly on tourism such as: manufacturing, commerce, transport, accommodation and restaurants and a large part of services (such as travel agencies), represent 34.97% of the GDP of the Cusco region, as of 2019.
As we had indicated, a large part of these economic activities depend on tourism, for example, hotel activity (accommodation), in Cusco it can be said that they practically subsist on tourism, so many local hotels are in a situation of insolvency, and only the big chains are still overcoming this situation. Activities such as restaurants depended largely on the tourist and much on the local customer, I doubt that there are exact statistics that allow us to accurately measure the impact of the closure, not only of Machupicchu, but also of the other tourist centers in Cusco; however, we can see that this impact has completely hit the entire region. Machupicchu is just the top of the iceberg.
Reopening of tourist activities
In this scenario, unions such as CARTUC (Cusco Chamber of Tourism), have shown their concern, urging regional authorities and the central government to seek “creative solutions” to achieve the reopening of tourism in the region.
It is the job of our authorities, now, to find the balance point. It is not just a matter of ordering the closure of all economic activities, and seeing how long we can survive. Now it is a matter of looking (Paraphrasing the CARTUC authorities) “creative solutions”, so that tourism activity can be restarted, thus boosting the paralyzed economy a bit.
Let us remember that many of the region’s tourist centers are located outdoors, where if the rules of distancing are followed, contagion can be avoided. In Cusco the archaeological centers are outdoors and if you follow strict rules in hotels and restaurants, the level of contagion could be kept under control. Machupicchu would no longer receive 4 thousand tourists per day, it would receive 400 (to say a number), but those 400 tourists could help inject money into local economies.
Where are the tourism professionals in Cusco?
We have become used to seeking solutions from politicians, when what must always be done is to seek solutions from scientists. Doctors know a lot about medicine, but a concerted solution is needed between multidisciplinary groups of professionals such as virologists, engineers, economists, doctors, lawyers and other professionals to discuss the situation in our region and our country so that respecting the distance it can be found a way to reactivate the economy without increasing contagion.
Why do we close the markets and banks or do we open them at reduced hours? When what we should do is open them at extended hours so that the people who attend them can do so without crowds.
Banks are opening from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon, causing people to crowd when they are open; But, what would happen if we open them from 6 in the morning to 10 at night? People would have more time to go and we would avoid crowding people. The same would happen if the markets were to open for longer.
Solutions to tourism can be sought, but it seems that tourism professionals (graduates in tourism) in Cusco have not dedicated themselves to studying solutions to this problem. The reason for doing science is to study critically and creatively. This is the time for tourism professionals and professional associations to seek solutions to the current situation in the Cusco Region, and ultimately all of Peru.