What is a tourism cluster?


A tourism cluster is a group of activities that complement each other and make the tourism experience pleasurable as well as memorable and inspire the tourist to tell others about the uniqueness of the trip. This also fosters people’s desire to return to the location that has given them so much pleasure.1


What activities are involved with sustainable agri-tourism?


The idea is for a tourist to be able to experience being on an organic farm and learning how food is produced. In sustainable agri-tourism, it is important that the tourist understands the value of producing healthy local food—food that fosters the health of its consumers as well as the ecosystem from which it comes. Increasingly, these days, people are learning about the hidden costs of conventional agri-business, whose chemicals and pesticides impact the health of people, animals and land.


Is a major increase in tourism possible in rural New Mexico?


Rural areas of NM have lovely natural landscapes, cultures and traditions, which attract tourists, but if there are no public services, people will not come. Tourists come when the quality of life for the citizens is high; after all, who would spend their vacation in an inhospitable location? The tourist needs clean water, a place to eat and sleep, to feel safe, good roads, etc.


How can we create activities that inspire tourists to journey to Santa Fe for more than a day-trip?


The idea is to incorporate people and business that are not currently in the tourist business that much—such as farmers, Native Americans and their pueblos. It is a matter of connecting talented people in Santa Fe and the region to tourists, so that when the tourists return to their homes, they leave with an authentic experience as well as the unique goods of the region. This exchange can help support the rural areas of northern NM.


Who should we attract to Santa Fe?


The ideal would be a combination of visitors; those who come for a day’s recreation, but also those from a distance, for the latter naturally will spend more time and money. To attract these individuals, Santa Fe can focus on promoting daily activities for visitors of different ages.


Did you know that if we look at a map of the US, it is less than a two-hour flight from Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Tucson, Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Denver, Colorado Springs and Aspen? We want the population of all these cities to recognize the possibility of spending their vacation in New Mexico. Because we are competing with the rest of the country and with the world, we have to promote a group of tourist-oriented activities and services that will inspire these folks to invest their dollars here. In each NM location, local people should propose or create innovative tourist-oriented solutions.


What recreation needs can Santa Fe satisfy for places such as Albuquerque, Río Rancho, Roswell, Las Cruces, Farmington, the South Valley, Clovis, Hobbs and Alamogordo?


These nearby cities (to Santa Fe) need recreation activities for their native populations. Rural Santa Fe should be asking: What can I offer to citizens of these in-state localities that will induce them to want to see what it is like to live here? They might like to dance and listen to our music, to buy our arts and crafts, our produce. In other words, what will allow visitors to have an enjoyable and memorable experience at a price that they can afford?


How can a local population benefit from hosting tourists?


Tourism can dramatically improve the economic life of a community’s citizens. These opportunities can encourage New Mexicans to stay in NM—designing and creating products and services for the visitors. This income generation can help make it viable for people to build families and to preserve cultures and traditions.


In the case of agri-tourism there is additional income that can be used in the off-season to help in the operation of a farm. There are also opportunities for the local youth to be creative in offering new products and services to the visitors. When youth begin participating in being hospitable to visitors, they learn to be gracious hosts and value what makes their community unique; therefore, they will be inclined to preserve their culture and heritage.


How can we avoid the negative impacts that tourism can have on a community?


The only way is to be prepared for the demands of visitors who expect high levels of customer service and sometimes have extravagant or inappropriate desires. The local population has an educational role, and those involved in tourist-oriented businesses must be trained in customer service and oriented to how to deal with the expectations of some visitors.


We do not want visitors to be abusive to native artists. They are not going to a yard sale. They are coming to a sacred land with time-honored traditions and art. They are paying for goods and services that are unique in the world. In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Santa Fe a UNESCO Creative City, the first city in the US to receive that designation. Visitors must respect and honor Santa Fe and the local communities. The first step to encourage this respect is for the local communities to value and respect themselves.


Can we begin to think outside the box? Can we develop a synergistic interdependent tourist cluster for the Santa Fe region?


Yes, we can. We need not only the commitment and engagement of travel agents and tour operators, we need the participation of the local government, educators, institutions, industry, food suppliers, property and maintenance suppliers, local retailers, healthcare and other services.


And of course, we need the participation of the local community, many of whom may be part of the services offered to the visitor, and who may be a memorable part of the visitors’ experience. Many tourists want to meet and talk with real local folks, but don’t know how to do it. To support the tourism-based economy, the local population needs to generate the conditions that help make this interchange of cultural heritage possible. The encouragement of respect and appreciation from tourists helps preserve traditions and culture. In other words, doing the right things for the people, the planet and profit (economy) of the Santa Fe region is what it takes to become sustainable. As all of the community’s citizens should participate in a direct or indirect way in hosting the visitors, all should benefit from the revenue of tourism.


What other challenges does creating a Santa Fe tourist cluster have?


We all must change the way we have been thinking about tourism. Sustainable tourism means changing the business model of isolation to one of partnerships and changing the organizational culture of the institutions that regulate and promote tourism—from centralism to delegation. We need to recognize our influence in empowering local communities, as opposed to imposing our restrictions and control. At the end of the day, it means promoting new eco-tourism.


We have to become comfortable with diversity and resist conforming to regulations and standards. We have to take higher risks, without blaming others for our lack of creativity and success.


We also have to change our mentality from quantity of products to quality of products and services.


We have to rethink tourism in Santa Fe, creating a model that encompasses all of its citizens—not merely those in the so-called tourist business. We need to develop new attractions—activities and products that preserve and enhance the culture, heritage and unique environment of the region.


The real question is: What is the cost of not doing all the above? How can Santa Fe’s total population of 68,000 people benefit from the 1.6 million visitors that come every year, while preserving its culture, heritage and unique environment? The answer is a comprehensive, sustainable tourism model that incorporates the farmers, the artists, the hotel and restaurant owners, the local authorities and public service providers. Many of these services and products exist, but there are many more that need to be invented, so Santa Fe and the region can welcome all types of visitors, not only the wealthy and older populations. Without losing its identity, a re-branding of Santa Fe must be conceived so that students, middle-class families, the handicapped and veterans can all have the opportunity of enjoying the magic that Santa Fe and northern New Mexico offer the world.



1. Tourism is an economic growth engine with particular focus at a regional level, but its national impact is also significant (Sharpley, 2002; Jackson et al., 2005). But, at a regional level this sector is presented as an essential tool in regional development and economic growth, believing to be one of the weapons to avoid desertification and regional economic stagnation, namely in the inner regions (Opperman, 1993). Given the great unanimity that clusters increase the competitiveness of a regional industry (Porter, 2002; Rocha, 2004) and given that tourism is a powerful instrument for regional development (Engelstoft et al., 2006), it is relevant and crucial to discuss the role of clusters in tourism.” Source: Regional Competitiveness of Tourism Cluster: A Conceptual Model Proposal (page 1) by Joao Ferreira and Cristina Estevao, University of Beira Interior (2009)



Maria Boccalandro, PhD is a sustainable urban planner, project manager and educator. She was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Maria married Daniel Mirabal, M.A in 1984 while both were studying urban planning at Simon Bolivar University. Mirabal, an international consultant, was also born in Caracas; his family originally came from Spain. They moved to Dallas, Texas in 2007. Boccalandro and Mirabal run Arete Consulting Group, a firm that has designed sustainable development plans for local, national and international institutions and businesses that want to be guided by the “triple bottom line.” Email: maria@aretecg.com







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