New Dean of Graduates in Tourism expresses his concerns about current state of tourism in Huaraz

The Huaraz Telegraph interviewed Antonio Palacios Bertolot, the new Dean of the College of Graduates in Tourism in Ancash (COLITUR Ancash) and asked him in a very openhearted conversation about the current situation of tourism in Huaraz. We also wanted to know what last year´s Third National Congress of Professionals in Tourism generated and what he thought about the fact that Huaraz had two extreme sports festivals organised two months ago at the same time. Palacios, 51, succeeded Alejandro Solis Neyra earlier this year. Originally from Lima Palacios studied tourism at the Universidad Nacional de Ancash Santiago Antúnez De Mayolo in Huaraz.

To start the interview we wanted to know what the roll of Dean of the College of Graduates in Tourism in Ancash entails.

Well, the college collaborates with different authorities to find ways of improving the tourism sector on a local, regional, provincial and national level. We also defend the interests of graduates in tourism in our region in terms of labour opportunities. For example, if we just analyse or simply look at the current composition of our local and regional governments, most people occupying positions that have to take important decisions about tourism, have no background in nor relation with tourism. The people at those positions are lawyers, accountants or singers (laughing). If we want to refloat tourism in Ancash we need professionals that have knowledge and practice in tourism and not professionals in other areas. It´s like making a paperboy head of a law firm.

When were you appointed as the new Dean of the College of Graduates in Tourism in Ancash and how long will your term last?

My guidance will last two years and I swore-in in April this year and we´re actually just recently in the process of validity and change of power. This will probably all be complete by the end of July. This was actually one of the problems my predecessor Alejandro had, he swore-in long before his job as Dean started and this caused some disturbing at the end of his governorship and this is obviously something we have to improve in the future.

At the end of June, Huaraz saw two different extreme sports festivals being held at the same time. One was the Festival del Andinismo, organised by the civil organisation Save the Rajus (Save the Mountains) of Benjamín Morales Irato in coordination with the District Municipality of Independencia, and the other festival, HirkaFest 2015 was organised under guidance of the heavily criticized Assistant Manager of Tourism, Silvia Mendoza Infantes of the Provincial Municipality of Huaraz. In its entirety, what do you make of the organisations of both festivals and the fact that many people were left confused?

In general it wasn’t that bad I believe. I do think, however, that the Festival del Andinismo was organised much more professionally compared to HirkaFest 2015. The Festival del Andinimso generated the participation of many competitors and athletes outside of Huaraz. This is important because it shows being competitive, but what I am actually referring to is the promotion of Huaraz on a national level. This event made the headlines in the national press and saw a participation of international athletes, and this is perfect for Huaraz, of course. About the HirkaFest 2015, I think this was just a caprice. The reason for having two festivals at the same time was due to a confluence of discoordination, as I mentioned before, caprice acting of some people. Some wanted to organise something decent and got betrayed and there was fighting over and over and in the end Huaraz ended up having two festivals. This cannot be qualified as very professional. Having two festivals at the same time is not something that benefited the reputation of Huaraz. When I as a spectator see that there are two events parallel organised with almost the same activities, I get confused and don’t know where to go. I have to admit that I didn’t witness any of the events as I was busy working on other things (laughing).

Many people in the tourism sector, such as hoteliers and agencies, are worried about the very few foreign tourists our city is receiving this year. Do you agree and if so what could be the reason for this?

I agree, absolutely. Look, according to my point of view, this is due to a couple of reasons. In the first place, Huaraz is not offering the quality that is expected by a tourist. When I am offered a package tour of let´s say S/. 1000.00, and then find that my expectations do not match with the reality, I get disappointed. We have basically three types of circuits on offer in Huaraz. There are the conventional tours, the classic three, which are Llanganuco, Chavín de Huantar and the Glacier of Pastoruri, we have the adventure circuits and then there are many more circuits that aren’t even explored or offered to tourists. Tourism in Huaraz for the past years (decades) has principally only relied on those three conventional tours. Then the services offered to tourists are really bad. Think of restaurants and maybe also the treatment received by tourists in the tour agencies. Maybe the biggest problem is the quality of vehicles, the quality of restaurants that are found on the way and their restroom services and not to mention the poor state of many roads. The landscape is often beautiful but much more is expected by tourists.

In general, I believe that carelessness and negligence and the lack of quality in general have caused the situation we´re in. Another problem area in Huaraz is the bus companies. During public holidays the bus companies that go towards regions like Ayacucho, Huancayo or to southern areas in Peru, don’t raise their prices. Bus companies that have Huaraz as their destination, double or even triple the price of a bus ticket. What happens is the following, if I got to the bus terminal in search of a destination for my family and I see that Huaraz is S/. 120.00 (normally it´s between S/. 25.00 for a day bus and S/. 50.00 for an overnight to Huaraz from Lima), while a ticket to Huancayo is only S/. 15.00, where do you think I will go? What we need to do is coordinate with those bus companies to make Huaraz more attractive and obviously the authorities should have a leading role in this. I don’t know, maybe I should become a dictator (laughing).

Many of the graduates of your college work in this sector, are they not able to change this situation?

As a matter of fact, there are not that many graduates in tourism that actually work in tourism either because they have been offered opportunities in other sectors apart from tourism, maybe because tourism wasn’t their vocation. I believe one should work and do what he or she likes the most but again, not many of the graduates in tourism are active in this sector.

According to your point of view, what can or needs to be done to reactivate the tourism sector so it will become sustainable and productive again?

As I mentioned previously, I believe coordination plays a key role; the coordination between the authorities of the state and the private sector will lead to success. There are many factors to be looked at, like the restaurants I mentioned before, hostels, bus companies, city order, and the food. Huaraz should be a nice city and this can be accomplished with discipline and education. I believe that education plays an important role in the whole of this. The job we´re talking about is a long term job; this cannot be done in a couple of days. In the near future, and if we maintain the situations like it is now, the only change we will make is we will have ourselves drowned. If we can unite ourselves (private and public sector) and undertake action, meaning making intelligent and consensual decisions, we might be able to change the situation. What happens is that on a municipal level, changes are made too rapidly and this creates enemies. We have to see what is really important to move forward and make steps together.

One of the problems to address is the informality in the tourism sector. If I am not mistaken, Alejandro Solis tried to tackle this problem but did not succeed. Are you on speaking terms with the touts at the bus stations or touts active on the streets or Plaza de Armas?

This is actually a very delicate topic. In the past I set against many informal tourist operators and this went all wrong. I became the bad guy who was accused of taking away their right to work. I also work as a guide, so I cannot be quarreled with everyone. Don’t forget, these informal tourist operators have a clever way of protecting themselves. There exists a municipal ordinance to tackle the informality, an ordinance that states that you cannot sell treks, tours, etc. on the streets of Huaraz. This ordinance is completely worthless because they are not selling on the street. What happens is that they take tourists to their house, hotel, hostel or agency and that’s where the transaction is done. And when you look at them you can observe with your own eyes that they´re doing good business because year after year they become fatter and fatter and drive bigger and better cars, and that´s the truth. In the near future I don’t see a solution to this problem, at least not one offered by the authorities. There is the lack of good will, if they really wanted; they have the power but not the will. We have united many times in the municipality and at the regional government, with I don’t remember how many people, but it´s still a problem, so, I don’t know. Many of these informal tourist operators and touts work with popular and recognised hostels or hotels, so those official agencies are also working in the informal circuit. The only solution I see is to close them down and give others the opportunity; change the people. It´s not the agency that manages the agencies it´s the people.

On the 14th of July you were present at a meeting in Lima at the National Congress of the Republic of Peru, what was this meeting about?

Well the purpose of our visit was to solicitude money for the participatory budget of Ancash (Presupuesto participativo de Áncash). We went with many representatives of organisations from Chimbote like the FEDIP (an organisation that stands up for the defense of people’s interests), the college of accountants and Huaraz was represented by Mrs. Elena Rios Ortiz (president of the Chamber of Industry Tourism and Trade in Huaraz), Jose Luis Anaya (manager of Lalo Travel and president of the Peruvian Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies in Huaraz) and finally me. We believe that Ancash has offered so much to Peru, it´s time for Peru to give something back. The past months or maybe years, a few corrupt people have damaged the reputation of Ancash and this costs us. But these are just a few, it´s not right that all of us have to pay the price. Peru and our region have always benefited from the extraction and mining of gold, silver and copper and in Chimbote it´s economy depended on fishing and other extractive perishables goods. Now what we have tried is to put tourism on the agenda. Maybe tourism is the only resource that is sustainable for the next decades. Tourism is not a mine that is about to be abandoned, this is a mine that needs to take us forwards and needs to be exploited. There are many countries that depend on tourism, so why not us. We will have to wait to see if our visit was successful; I can only hope that if we succeed, that the money is not directly given to Waldo Rios Salcedo (this year´s installed regional governor and successor of the incarcerated César Álvarez Aguilar). Ai, no this cannot happen, this would scare the crap out of me.

Last year, Huaraz hosted the Third National Congress of Professionals in Tourism, which provoked little interest from its target audience, so we reported in our newspaper. The congress was organised by the body of COLITUR. Allow us to quote a little piece from our publication last year: ¨Huaraz, a city that, according to its protagonists, is one of the main tourist destinations within Peru, was hosting an event that specifically targeted the industry; however, it provoked little interest from students, professionals or the public in general. Unfortunately the lack of interest and lack of motivation of the target audience meant few attended. Lack of punctuality didn’t help to make it professional either. The first activities were scheduled to start at nine in the morning, but an hour later the 70 people strong audience of professionals and students who came from places like the Amazons, Arequipa, La Libertad and Cuzco was still looking around and waiting.¨ What do you think that the congress has brought us, now a year later and looking back at the event?

Well, in my opinion what it generated was in general a dialogue with the vice ministry of tourism of Peru. The approach wasn’t really productive in the end because at the vice ministry they have changed the directives of different COLITURs, which isn’t actually legal. This is something we have to address, especially because I am not only the Dean of the College of Graduates in Tourism in Ancash but also Chairman of the Board of all Deans of COLITUR in Peru.

How do you qualify the work and management of the Regional Directorate of Foreign Trade and Tourism (DIRCETUR) now Maricela Cafferata Diaz has been replaced by Herlan Herrera? Have things improved or gotten worse?

Well, apparently Herlan Herrera isn’t in charge of the DIRCETUR anymore (at the moment publishing our newspaper, he is however still in charge), it´s worse; we are now without a head of tourism at the regional government. I know who will be the next one but this is not officially confirmed, but I will mention it to you off the record. The management of the DIRCETUR I would qualify as very poor. There is no money to make things happen, but they´re not making any steps forward. Like I mentioned in the beginning of the interview, here as well you see professionals working in areas that are not their specialty. It´s said that people who get hired have to ´donate´ part of their wages to the governor, to obtain a job. This is obviously not a healthy situation. When looking at the governments of Independencia and Huaraz, I believe that Independencia is doing a much better job, not in the least because Huaraz has a person in charge who knows nothing about tourism (Silvia Mendoza Infantes), whereas Independencia has appointed a graduate in tourism (Rocio Del Carmen Diaz Estrada). And to make it even more incredible, in the Huaraz government there used to be a graduate, but they replaced this person for someone who knows nothing about tourism. What are you expecting? Rocio Del Carmen Diaz Estrada has worked in tourism and obviously has many more contacts in the area. A position of trust at any level should be occupied by a professional and not by a ´trusted´ or close friend. If we can make that change, not just in tourism but in all areas, we can make Huaraz a better place.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add or say to our readers?

Let me think. I hope that tourists have a decent stay in Huaraz and that they take back many nice memories to where they call home. They should definitely focus on insisting on receiving a good service from restaurants, agencies and hostels. If you pay for something, it should be of good quality. When good services are not demanded by foreign visitors, we will never improve them. I hope they have a safe trip, hope they manage to value our customs, and recommend them to go to new places instead of the three classic tours that are mainly offered in Huaraz.

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