by Rene Quenallata Paredes
LA PAZ, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Community-based tourism has served to bolster cultural identity among Bolivia's indigenous communities, experts said.
Deputy Tourism Minister Ricardo Cox told Xinhua that this travel segment attracts nature lovers and culture mavens and it helps to reinforce cultural heritage and preserve the environment.
"A new trend has emerged out of Bolivia's diverse tourism that coincides with the appearance of a new type of traveler who is seeking to have a different kind of experience and close contact with rural communities," said Cox.
"The country has seen this segment develop quickly and with much success," he added.
The World Tourism Organization has recognized Bolivia as one of the South American countries with the best developed community-based tourism.
In contrast with many of its neighbors, Bolivia has numerous indigenous groups that have preserved their way of life and traditions.
There are as many as 36 different indigenous groups; each has its own language, customs, traditions and way of life, all of which are reflected in the way they build their homes, make their clothes, and celebrate key dates.
In terms of community-based and rural tourism, Bolivia is "on par with Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica," said Cox.
Other communities have worked to rescue their ancestral heritage, inspired by the experience of traditional towns in attracting tourists, according to Erudita Quispe de Mamani, director of La Paz-based Bartolinas National Confederation of Farming, Indigenous and Native Women.
Community-based tourism allows indigenous groups to improve their quality of life and meanwhile educate the younger generations about their traditions and customs, she said.
"This type of tourism centers on the value of daily cultural, agricultural and festive practices. The community opens its doors to national and foreign tourists," Quispe said.
Communities have reappraised their cultural heritage and raised revenue in the process, said Lourdes Omoyo, manager of the state-run Bolivian tourism agency Boltur.
Bolivia's Constitution cites community-based tourism as a strategy for development.
In addition to providing communities with an alternative source of income, it serves as an incentive for locals to protect their habitats and natural resources.
Bolivia ranks among the world's top 15 countries with the most biodiversity.
"What makes Bolivia stand out from other countries is our living culture," said Omoyo.