Machu Picchu is open again after a seven-month closure and millions in lost revenue, but new restrictions on visitors suggest a blueprint for sustainable tourism. Olivia Palamountain reports
In an upside-down year for tourism, even the Wonders of the World haven’t made it out unscathed.
2020 marks only the second time that Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Incan citadel, high in the Andes mountains, has closed since 1948 (the first was in 2010, when it was swamped by torrential rain storms).
After a tentative July reopening date came and went due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, Peru’s biggest tourist draw is now open for business again – albeit with some stipulations.
Admission is, for now, limited to 675 people a day. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it saw average daily visitor numbers of 2,000-3,000 people. The first round of tickets has already sold out, with package tour prices slashed to US$250 (£193) from around US$750 (£579).
Groups will be limited to eight people who will have to stick to four predefined routes and children under 12 – who, under Peru’s Covid rules, are only allowed out of the house for 60 minutes a day – will not be granted entry.
There will be temperature checks on entry and visitors will be required to wear face masks and keep a distance of two metres from one another.
“We have a limited 30 per cent admission capacity in compliance with biosafety measures and protocols,” Jose Basante, director of Machu Picchu archaeological park, told The Telegraph.
Could there be a silver lining to these unprecedented measures of control and reduced visitor numbers? There is a case to be made that “Involuntary Undertourism” (a term coined by Globetrender in its Travel in the Age of Covid-19 trend report) is actually having a positive effect on some destinations.
Tourism accounts for 9.8 percent of Peru’s GDP, bringing in more than US$20 billion a year. By 2018, visitors to Machu Picchu had surpassed 1.5 million, the consequences of which was irreparable damage to the archaeological site. Plus, tourists often neglected to visit the other impressive sights that Peru has to offer.
The pandemic’s long-term repercussions for tourism to key World Heritage sites are still uncertain. Some fear the lack of revenue could impede crucial repairs. Others see an opportunity in the sudden silence: a chance for nature to recover and for a subsequent move toward sustainable tourism, says The Washington Post.
Machu Picchu is not the only Wonder of the World to have felt the pinch this year.
India’s Taj Mahal mausoleum reopened in late September, after six months of closure, Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue reopened to tourists and other visitors in August after a five-month closure, and while Cambodia’s Angkor Wat religious temple complex remained open throughout much of the year, ticket revenue from foreign travellers fell 97 per cent year-on-year in September, The Manila Times reported.
In China, bookings to see the Great Wall surged over the summer thanks to a flourishing domestic tourism market. This is not dissimilar to the situation in Kenya, where lower hotel rates as a consequence of the pandemic have allowed more local people the chance to be tourists in their own country, as reported by Globetrender.