Thinking about going to Peru? How’s this for advice?
The water? Is poisonous. The food? Gives you diarrhea. The country? Is ugly. The pollution in Lima makes you choke. And everyone, and I mean everyone — taxi drivers, hotel owners,tour operators, souvenir vendors — tries to rob you. It makes you paranoid. I went to Peru, and I thought everyone was out to get me. Then I realized — they were out to get me!
Sound like like the Peru you know? No, me neither.
This was a comment from a talk Lonely Planet author just gave in Colombia. It was given in front of an audience of the country’s tourism professionals – all looking at ways to increase tourism, make the most of the country’s pros and look at how it can pitch itself against other South American countries with more a established tourist industry. But among the very well thought-out observations on what a gringo crowd wants and some excellent advice about not overlooking the backpacker market, there were a couple of throwaway comments that seemed to undermine the debate. The one that stood most for me – and made me shiver – was the above statement on Peru. (Although Ecuador and Venezuela didn’t come out too well either. But for other reasons.)
In his speech, the writer looked at how Colombia is fighting back against generalisations with their ‘the only risk is wanting to stay’ campaign and yet he then makes one of the most extreme generalisations against a country I’ve heard for a long time.
I first saw a link to this speech on South American travel blog, TravelOjos. I’ve been having an email discussion about it with the blog’s editor, Steven Roll. We both have mixed feelings about the speech. Generally, our thoughts are that it has good foundation (ie – Colombia has a lot to offer and it needs to work to its strengths), but this could have been expressed without an attack on Peru.
Was it a joke? We wondered. Apparently not. Steven emailed the writer to check.
This was Steven’s take on the speech:
Writing about Latin America means acknowledging that certain problems exist. While his characterization seems overly broad and probably is unfair, I find his frankness somewhat refreshing. It’s not as if no one else thinks these things. I wouldn’t trust a restaurant reviewer who liked everywhere she ate. A larger question raised by his speech is: where do you draw the line with generalizations/stereotypes etc. To entirely disregard all of them seems like political correctness run amok. To buy into them too much smacks of bigotry.
Interesting. There’s a bigger question here for sure and frankness can be good. A travel writer is being responsible if advising people not to turn up in Lima with an expensive camera slung over one shoulder or drink tap water. However, this is extreme and I don’t think it’s political correctness gone mad to be astounded when someone says all Peruvians working in tourism are crooks.
Back to Colombia, the fundamental point was that although it doesn’t have a Machu Picchu, it has a whole lot else on offer if it finds the right market (less tourists looking for sights, more travellers looking for experiences). The idea of people needing to look beyond the travel icons for their travel experiences? I agree wholeheartedly; I’ve said it time and time again myself. I also agree that Colombia is an amazing country with hugely untapped potential and it’s wise for them to compare their situation with that of other Latin American countries in order to find their niche.
I would love to be blogging now about the good points that were made in the speech, but sadly this Peru comment stuck in my head and I can’t let it slide. Neither, it seems, can the Peruvians that have already got hold of the text from the speech, which is circling on the net. They are, quite rightly, not impressed.
Peruvians, Colombians, travel writers, travellers, anyone: what do you think? Any thoughts on the wider picture of generalisations in South American tourism?