For Diego Lopez Zeballos, a sixth semester Ecotourism student at the UAC-CP, the importance of rural tourism as a field is twofold: to protect the environment and to share his country's cultures.
Diego first became interested in tourism as a profession while working as a tour guide in Madidi National Park. A jungle sanctuary located in northwestern Bolivia, the park is one of the largest protected areas in the country and is situated in the most ecologically diverse region of the planet. He loved sharing the lush, green paradise with people he met from all over the world.
After working there for several months, Diego decided to study at the UAC-CP for the opportunity to advance his career as a tour guide and gain more theoretical and practical knowledge of the field. "I will be able to put everything I learn here in practice when I return to work," he says.
In the UAC-CP's Ecotourism Department, Diego enjoys learning about preserving natural areas and endangered species, market trends and client management, Bolivian history, and the different types of tourism that exist in rural areas. He also appreciates taking English classes from volunteer teachers who are native speakers. "Studying here makes me want to know more about cultures within Bolivia and around the world," he says.
Because of his interests in ecosystems and cultures, Diego is particularly drawn to turismo vivencial, or experiential tourism, which Diego describes as when tourists travel to a place and experience life as those in the community live in order to really understand it. Experiential tourism encompasses both ecotourism, which involves nature and conservation efforts, and cultural tourism, which concerns the history and lifestyles of different populations. In addition to providing a meaningful career for Diego, experiential tourism also plays a significant role in preserving the cultural and natural assets of the Bolivian countryside and ensuring a sustainable source of income for generations to come.
"There's a big focus on really understanding a culture and respecting it," he says, citing the archeological site Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Lake Titicaca, as an example of a tourist attraction that promotes Bolivia's environment and cultural heritage. "This kind of tourism shows the rich, diverse cultures that exist in each region of our country."
When Diego graduates in 2019, he will become the first in his family to obtain a college degree. One day, he hopes to open his own experiential tourism business with the knowledge and life skills he has gained as a UAC-CP student.
Submitted by Sarah Neuberger.