Jorge Moller

"I do not believe too much in having a destination called sustainable, but rather in the road to sustainability. I believe in the importance of the journey towards sustainability"

Jorge Moller is a Consultant and an Ecotourism & Special Interest Tourism pioneer in Chile. He started back in 1985 in the South of Chile where he later founded the “Eco Travel” tours in the Lake District Puerto Varas. He is a founding member of Chile’s adventure travel regulatory organization (C.A.T.A.) and of the Tourism Corporation of Puerto Varas. Always keen to bring an environmental education perspective into the tourism experience, Mr Moller directed for 20 years Darwin’s Trails Chile, a joint English-Chilean inbound Tour Operator which provided authentic local experiences and local people contact for clients visiting Chile and Patagonia. As the Director of REGENERA, Mr Moller works as a consultant with indigenous communities such as the Mapuches, Likan Antai, Yagan and Rapa-Nui to provide them with tools for sustainable development. An active member of the Chilean Tourism Bureau Board, he promotes the destination of Chile in a sustainable way, including all types of experiences in this incredibly biodiverse country. Mr Moller has taught at the Universidad Católica. and played a key role in the foundation and development of the South American Sustainable Tourism Network (SAST). Today he is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Country Representative of Chile and steers the GSTC Destination Sustainable Working Group. He currently works with various destinations in Latin America including Robinson Crusoe, Cape Horn and Qhapac Ñan with the aim of improving their product and tourism market access.

ECOCLUB.com: As an Ecotourism pioneer in Chile, do you remember what first attracted you to Ecotourism and the South of Chile back in 1985?

Jorge Moller: As a university student, I was working in a pub in Santiago. Above the pub, on the second floor there was a rafting company which organised weekend river trips to various Chilean destinations. From a very young age, I had been attracted to rivers as we used to go out fishing with my father on a wooden boat. So I asked that rafting company if they could take me on a rafting trip somewhere near Santiago. They did, and from then on I realised that I could combine what I love, which is being in nature, with an outdoors job. I started going on the trips on weekends while I was still studying and working in the pub and also helped with the logistics of rafting. We used to do a full summer season in Pucon in the Lake District, South of Chile. After being in charge of operations for a couple of years I decided that I wanted to set up my own business and to focus on teaching people a little more about nature. So in 1989, I found an opportunity in Puerto Varas, 1,000 km south of Santiago, and there I started my own company which I called ‘Eco Travel’.

ECOCLUB.com: How different were things in the area at the time, during the late Pinochet years, regarding environmental awareness, pollution, social justice and tourism opportunities for the indigenous communities?

Jorge Moller: Basically, during these years, the dictatorship focused on generating employment and money, so there was low environmental awareness, they did not care too much about the environment. Abundant in natural resources, in Chile, it was normal for our income to be derived from extractive activities like mining, forestry, wine production, pulp industry and salmon farming. The indigenous communities were also very depressed, and until today it is a big political problem that a lot of indigenous communities still do not have the rights that they deserve.

ECOCLUB.com: So, you received no assistance from the state but there weren’t major obstacles either when you started out?

Jorge Moller: No, I would not say there were obstacles in the beginning as an adventure travel company, but I saw in my surroundings that a lot of business was done at the expense of nature. Some of it continues to this day. The sustainability concept in Chile is quite new, especially in the minds of business people. So there was not something against undertaking an ecotourism business but there was a continuous friction between tourism and salmon farmers for example because the latter use a lot of interior seas and beautiful landscapes to install their dirty cages and pollute waters. The Forestry sector replace native forest with pine and eucalyptus plantations while Mining also destroy beautiful landcapes and water sources.

ECOCLUB.com: What about hunting and poaching are these major issues in Chile?

Jorge Moller: No, sometimes birds are hunted in wintertime but it is not a big thing. Although some people hunt pumas and the huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) which is Chile’s National Animal.

ECOCLUB.com: You have since founded, co-founded, led and participated in many sustainable tourism businesses, associations and networks. Such sustainable tourism initiatives are proliferating in recent years, but what in your view will be the ultimate determinant of their life cycle (relevance and viability)?

Jorge Moller: I think there is a lack of information on how to proceed with sustainable strategies in all kind of businesses. All these organisations to the extent that they can provide values and highways to understand and implement sustainability practices they are very useful. Sometimes people want to be sustainable but they do not know how to implement sustainable practices or communicate with the market. What is 100% true is that the market is demanding more and more responsible tourism. The final client is eco-aware, especially coming from abroad, and they prefer to book those who have good sustainable practices and so that their money will go to the local people not to a big company. There are some stakeholders that may be going towards the direction of greenwashing but overall I think most sustainable tourism initiatives are very useful because we are a very isolated country at the end of the world, and so there is a lack of networking. These organisations will promote you to the world, help you learn and exchange experiences with others. So I think it is very very improtant to bring the knowledge into Chile. And the way to do it is by booking into these different organisations that will help to connect with people, knowledge, good practices and so on. The Chilean government makes an effort but it is not enough.

ECOCLUB.com: As someone who has been closely involved with GSTC from the start, how important was the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Conference in Chile (6-9 September 2017) for your work and what new initiatives should we expect from GSTC in the region in the future?

Jorge Moller: The good thing about GSTC is that it is something very practical. We have 41 criteria for destinations, so it is about measurements, either you are sustainable or or you are not. It is a procedure where you go to a destination, perform the assesment and you ask them do you do this or not and it gives you a feedback and it tells you what you should prioritize and how to become better and better. So it is something measurable. That is what we need, we need to measure. We need numbers, not only dreams and we need a follow up plan to become better, this is especially so for authorities that are making decisions and local stakeholders; they not only need to talk about sustainability but also to know how to improve and GSTC provides that strategy to improve every day by this assesment that will let you know if you are achieving your goals or not and how to achieve the next goal. GSTC also works towards a greater understanding of what certification is. We approve some certification bodies, some others we do not and that is helpful because you can get easily confused with 170 certification bodies that are saying that they certify sustainability around the world. We need to know which of those are really doing their job properly and transparently, in one word, we certify the certifications.

you can get easily confused with 170 certification bodies that are saying that they certify sustainability around the world. We need to know which of those are really doing their job properly and transparently, in one word, we certify the certifications.

ECOCLUB.com: Do you think that sustainable tourism certification can be made compulsory at some point or will it always remain voluntary for businesses?

Jorge Moller: I would say that their own market will push them to do it. If you see the numbers, certification is increasing so rapidly that consumers are not trusting if a business claims they are sustainable. I think like any product that you see on supermarket shelves, which has a certain type of certification either by the health ministry or by a certification body, in sustainable tourism the same is going to happen. We will have to demonstrate that we are sustainable and that we are doing things properly. So I think the market will self-regulate. For example, in Europe TUI will be using only certified providers from the next year and this will lead providers who want to sell through TUI towards certification.

ECOCLUB.com: So, how important was the recent GSTC Sustainable Tourism Conference in Chile (6-9 September 2017) in terms of encouraging sustainability?

Jorge Moller: I think it was very important because in Chile we are migrating from tackling the problem of deficient tourism demand, as we are already receiving 6 million tourists each year, towards solving the problem of insufficient planning. We need to understand that it is not a matter of how many tourists we get here but how much income, distribution, seasonality and things like that. Stakeholders need to focus on the destination, rather than their hotel, restaurant or tour operation. This event helped stakeholders, and particularly the government, realise this, that we need to plan for our destination.

Jorge Moller in Puerto Williams, Chile.
Jorge Moller in Puerto Williams, Chile.

ECOCLUB.com: The image of a destination is just as important, and in August we heard on the news that some lorries were set on fire by an indigenous group claiming to represent the Mapuche to protest their chronic disenfranchisement. As someone who has done a lot of consultancy work with the Mapuche and other indigenous communities do you believe that Tourism is an adequate solution in assisting them preserve their identity, meet their real needs and solve problems, what is your experience?

Jorge Moller: First of all I would like to say, in relation to the group that burnt those trucks, that they represent only 1% of the Mapuche population. 99% of the Mapuche believe that there is a problem but violence is not the way to solve it. Second, I think that Tourism is a key way for the rest of the world to learn about the values of the aboriginal people, not only of the Mapuche, but also in the north of Chile and other parts of the country. Tourism is the bridge between the local culture and the visitors who can appreciate and value how locals live so that helps build a better relationship for the future. I do not see any other activities that may satisfy both sides because Mining will destroy the Indian community, as Forestry has already done. It is of strategic importance to bring tourism into local communities through appropriate planning and local communities now welcome tourism, unlike 40 years ago. Indigenous communities are now proud to share their way of life with visitors as they feel citizens will go back and press the government to act in a proper way towards them.

ECOCLUB.com: This is good to hear however many reports argue that violent, historical disputes between landowners and indigenous communities over land rights are seemingly endless and possibly worsening in recent years in Chile, especially in the Araucanía region, which borders Chile's Lake District. In this context, are Indigenous communities always keen on developing Tourism, or sustainable Tourism or are they suspicious of further land grabs? Is there an established, democratic, legal process through which indigenous communities can decide if, how much and what type of Tourism they wish to develop.

Jorge Moller: Yes, there is a problem of trust, throughout the country, nowadays. In all Aboriginal lands, there is a problem of trust because we have not treated them well for a long time. So the first time you reach them and you come from the ‘white’ parts or what they call the winkas (outsiders) - winkas being all the white people in Chile - the first thing to work on is Trust. This requires a lot of time, a lot of easy-going and listening. We have two ears and one mouth, so we need to listen twice. Sometimes they wonder who or what is coming behind this guy who is telling us these stories and so on. Once the trust is installed then you may proceed to the second stage which is “how do YOU want to do tourism in your community”. Not how WE want to make tourism. It is about their needs, their timing, their way so that they may feel comfortable. And once this is process is established then you can begin this magnificent process. They start believing, they start seeing the beautiful part of tourism, they feel proud of what they are and what they do. For the first time ever they see that the white people respect and admire their values and their way of living and then they open; it is a very gradual process.

ECOCLUB.com: Do you follow any specific guidelines or rule of thumb for making relations between indigenous people and travellers as equitable, respectful and mutually beneficial as possible, or does it depend on the particular circumstances of each village/region?

Jorge Moller: Well, there is a very nice Mapuche concept which is the word witran (stranger or guest). When a community have a visitor they call him witran. What that means is that the local community gets prepared for the visit in advance but the visitor too, gets prepared in relation to where s/he is going, s/he should have an open heart, to listen and learn from them. This way, tourism operates like a perfect bridge between them. In an expected, well-planned visit the tourist is aware that he is entering a community and that he needs to flow with it. So I think that is the proper attitude, a matter of keeping your mind and your heart open, to learn, share and not to impose on the local community what they should do, something we white people have been doing for the past 500 years.

ECOCLUB.com: So does your NGO, REGENERA act as an intermediary between a tour operator that wants to launch a new community tour or do you organise the tour yourself? How does it work?

Jorge Moller: No, we work as a bridge, we mediate with tour operators. Basically what we do is that we prepare the local community to be comfortable in the way they want to open themselves to tourism. We do not bring the needs of the tour operators quickly into the community, we adapt them first to the needs of the community.

ECOCLUB.com: How are you remunerated for your work?

Jorge Moller: The communities get projects funded by the government and then they hire us. The community will hire us with funds that come from governmental projects.

ECOCLUB.com: So you are hired to act on behalf of the community, trying to advise them which projects are most suitable?

Jorge Moller: Not only to advise them but to listen to them. Again this is what I was saying. You do not go in with a set way of doing things. We first listen a lot and then we come up with a solution. Sometimes they tell us we want to do it this way, we do not want to do that, then we come up with a way of bringing this to the world of the white people, of the tour operators, to set up a formula that works win- win not only tour operators but also with the final clients. Nowadays we do not only work with tour operators, we also have a lot of visitors, that are getting themselves organised each time more and more through internet, through websites and social media, or by word of mouth. We have a lot of final clients that are interested in these experiences. So we also need to set up a good planning for that.

At REGENERA we are trying to install this philosophy of not only having sustainable tourism, but ‘regenerative’ tourism, to take responsibility for the past, what we have done to our planet. The UNWTO when they define sustainable tourism they focus on present and future actions. We also want to take care and fix what was done in the past to human beings and the environment, for example big fires in the National park Torres del Pine. We want to learn, we want to improve and become part of the solution, involving tourists and inviting local tour operators to design experiences that will attract people keen on helping the planet, resulting in a better destination from an environmental, social and cultural perspective. to get a better destination from ambiental social and cultural. So with REGENERA we are trying to raise awareness, on how to fix and help and heal the planet with our tourism actions in every destination.

We also want to take care and fix what was done in the past to human beings and the environment

ECOCLUB.com: How do you manage independent travellers? Are all travellers suitable for participating in such close, authentic encounters with the community or should they undergo some educational, filtering or vetting process?

Jorge Moller: I think that anyone that would like to respect and learn from the message that these local communities are bringing in the attitude of witran can come in. Anyone who has a witran attitude which covers learning, listening, and respect for the local ways. If this happens everyone is welcome to join this kind of experience.

ECOCLUB.com: Do you set up a problem-solving mechanism or committee in each village which may resolve tourism-related problems between tourism providers and the host community?

Jorge Moller: Yes, we normally try to set up a local council, which may always be reviewing and checking if the boat is navigating in the proper way or not because this is a very dynamic process. So the first thing to ensure is always is that they feel comfortable with these encounters. So we are constantly revising the process , getting feedback from them, because this way we can learn from the previous experiences, good or bad. It is important to set up a management system including the representatives of the local community. We work individually with each stakeholder and we also work with the whole destination.

ECOCLUB.com: Since you mention destinations, in the quest to develop destinations, which are sustainable, socially, environmentally and economically, how important is the role of responsible promotion and planning? Which stakeholders are best placed to lead this task of planning. Should everyone get involved equally or should the lead be taken by the local government the village council or yourself as a consultant. Who should lead this planning?

Jorge Moller: Let me first say that at the GSTC we have realised that there is a fourth pillar or force which is very important to consider every time we go to a destination or talk about sustainability. This is gestión (Management), which involves bringing public and private sector together. You can be sustainable economically or socially but if you do not have a management system how to proceed and move forward with the whole community and so on it stays there. The second thing that I have learned is that you can have a private sector which is very interested in sustainability but if there are no learned and involved local authorities that can incorporate sustainability into the decisions it will not work. Unfortunately the private sector is not able to move forward with sustainability if the local mayor or the local government are not involved. So its a mix between both public and private, the private sector moves faster but they cannot be a substitute for public policy. We need public involvement to sustain forever a destination. If it is only an agreement between private sides it will not succeed.

We need public involvement to sustain forever a destination. If it is only an agreement between private sides it will not succeed.

ECOCLUB.com: Tourism Carrying Capacity, may be easy to conceptualise, especially in Protected Areas and archaeological sites, but it has been heavily criticised by many tourism scholars as fundamentally flawed and hard to measure, and it has been replaced to some extent by other concepts and methods such as Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC), Acceptable Visitor Load (AVL) and Groups at any one Time (GAOT). It may make a come back in the era of Big Data, but what is the view among sustainable tourism practitioners?

Jorge Moller: It is not only practical, it is of high priority in my country and in many other destinations. Tourist arrivals growth is accelerated with cheaper airlines, more incentives to travel overseas and so on, and many destinations are feeling a pressure from strong demand. This is what I was telling you before, when you start promoting destinations and you do not know their limits it is like inviting 50 friends for dinner in your house when your dining room only fits 10. It is the same thing that is happening in many countries. The tourism bureaus are engaging in strong promotion of destinations but they never ask on time the question, where and how many people can we fit. Tourism overcrowding or Overtourism is beginning to be seen in Barcelona, Venice and in other places. In Chile we have destinations like Parque Nacional Torres del Pine, San Pedro de Atacama and Rapanui that are totally overcrowded in the high season and the experience is destroyed. Tourism Bureaus need to talk to universities, the public and the private sectors to understand the flow of the place, how much people, when, how, can we fit in the place and I think that is a vision that needs to be installed in my country, urgently.

ECOCLUB.com: Indeed, but when you talk to a politician and you say that the carrying capacity allows for example 1 million tourist in this region every year, she/he may then tell you OK, in that case let us build some more capacity, infrastructure, create jobs, votes and so on.

Jorge Moller: Carrying capacity has a lot to do with biological capacity. It is not a matter of infrastructure only. It also has to do with the quality of the experience, because sometimes you may have a carrying capacity in a single path that is a hundred people but the quality of the experience allows only 50 people. And it also involves the biological aspect of the carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is not only about the number of beds, but also about the impacts on the experience of the visitor and the impact on the local community, by leading to overcrowded roads and supermarkets. So there are a lot of factors that will have to be considered. The key challenge in my personal experience is the revenue and the quality of the experience. We do not need to focus in bringing more, but in bringing better tourism, better tourism means better income, better respect for the local community, better experience for the tourist.

ECOCLUB.com: So as a measure, do you prefer tourism carrying capacity to other concepts like Limits of Acceptable Change or Acceptable Visitor Load and other?

Jorge Moller: That is a big debate that we are having inside the GSTC, what should be the proper way? I do not know. The only thing I do not want to see is articles in the newspaper that there are 300 tents in a place that allows only 100 tents. Put the name that you want, I do not care, the reality, what is that is happening to nature is the one I care about. I do not know what could be the best name for it but what is real is the numbers. Numbers that are showing that we are overcrowding, experiences, destinations, local people and so on.

ECOCLUB.com: Fine, but perhaps a more standardised way must be used to calculate these acceptable limits or carrying capacity around the world?

Jorge Moller: For that I think we need to involve universities, local universities, to understand that we do only need to think how to get more tourists, but also to understand how we may calculate, plan a destination all year round, and this is a challenge also with respect to the diversity of experiences we are providing around the year and places.

ECOCLUB.com: Can all destinations become sustainable? And how easy is it to certify them as sustainable?

Jorge Moller: I do not believe too much in having a destination called sustainable, but rather in the road to sustainability. I believe in the importance of the journey towards sustainability. I think it is very hard to reach the point where you could say we are a sustainable destination. I think that would involve setting the bar very high and this would be very difficult for big destinations. In the journey towards sustainability, I think all destinations are invited, some of them are in front, some are still at the beginning but its a journey that every destination should undertake to move forward.

 I do not believe too much in having a destination called sustainable, but rather in the road to sustainability. I believe in the importance of the journey towards sustainability

ECOCLUB.com: But if it is a journey, then how easy is it to certify a destination, to certify that they have completed the journey. Surely, there is room for debate, can you really certify a destination?

Jorge Moller: I think there should be steps, as it is in Costa Rica, one leaf, two leaves and so on. This motivates people, they get the recognition that thety have reached a certain stage and they are happy because of that. If the goal is broken down in stages, everyone is included, and everyone is eager to reach those stages.

ECOCLUB.com: So if destination A has achieved level 2, and destination B, at the other end of the world, has reached level 4, how can we be sure that it is a fair comparisson?

Jorge Moller: Criteria! When it comes to certification, they should be measured by the same basic criteria, and that is where the GSTC comes in with those 41 criterias and indicators. That is a meaasurement tool, so all of the stages should be at least partly based on the GSTC criteria. So ‘leaf 1’ from Chile, and ‘leaf 1’ from Costa Rica have the same base which is the GSTC criteria.

ECOCLUB.com: Even if a destination in Chile had to make a greater effort than one in Costa Rica?

Jorge Moller: You can modify or adjust the percentage of the accomplishment of the criteria. 10% in Chile could be Leaf 1, and 20% in Costa Rica could be Leaf 1.

ECOCLUB.com: So in Chile, would you like to name the most sustainable destination or region that has made progress in the journey towards sustainability and please tell us why you would choose that particular example.

Jorge Moller: I would say Robinson Crusoe in Juan Fernandez Archipelago, have done a great job. I am involved in this project, it is a Unesco-designated biological reserve, they have the most sustainable fishing, they have been declared a Zona de Interes Touristico (ZOIT), so they have a plan to become more and more protected and sustainable. They have a Clean Production Agreement (Accuerdo de Producción Limpia), they are an environmentally concious community, they have a big national park, they have a marine, coastal protected area with many layers of conservation.

ECOCLUB.com: And the secret to their success, if you could pick one element, what was it? What really brought success?

Jorge Moller: I think the fact that they all live together in one place, in the town of Juan Bautista. There there is a legacy from the older generation regarding the protection of their main resource which is Lobster fishing. From the old generation they learned that if they took out more, small and not in the season lobsters they will deplete their resource. So they only work in certain time of the year, they catch a certain size and they consciously manage their resources. They do not accept foreign fishing boats, and they obey the rules which they agree between them. They still fish lobsters with wooden cages. So as they have done it with lobster, they do it with the destination.

Jorge Moller of Regenera NGO signs MOU with Sustainable Riviera Maya (Mexico) at GSTC Conference in Chile, 9 September 2017
Jorge Moller of Regenera NGO signs MOU with Sustainable Riviera Maya (Mexico) at GSTC Conference in Chile, 9 September 2017

ECOCLUB.com: Thus, the success appears to be a product of private and public sector cooperation. How satisfied are you with the current Chilean government's policies towards sustainable tourism and sustainable tourism certification? If asked, what key changes would you advise them to implement?

Jorge Moller: I am never satisfied, as I am very ambitious with sustainability. If I was satisfied it would not move me to work harder and harder every day. This does not necessarily mean that they are not doing it well, they are probably doing their best. We need to get more public sector actors involved, aware and sensitised about sustainability as well as to educate the Chileans about sustainable tourism. We have not been educated in the ability to choose those tourism products and efforts that have approached sustainability. Otherwise, it does not make economic sense to tourism businesses to protect the planet. The government could play an extremely important role by launching a campaign to teach the final client, we Chileans, when we plan our holidays that our main and first choice, should be those providers that have become sustainable. And this is missing.

ECOCLUB.com: And this education or training, can it happen say in elementary schools, to be included in a new special lesson on tourism, environment and sustainability, perhaps?

Jorge Moller: It has to be a campaign. So it has to go through schools, TVs, radios, signs on the highways, everything, it has to go through educational channels and be multifaceted.

ECOCLUB.com: Is it something that GSTC in Chile can also get involved in?

Jorge Moller: Oh, yes. But mainly what we can get involved in is to educate local authorities on the importance of criteria and strategic planning in destinations. That is something we can do with workshops all over Chile is to get municipalities, the mayors, and local governments on board, so that before their next decision they will know what a sustainable destination could be and become one. Training is very important. This is what we GSTC in Chile can really focus on for the benefit of our country.

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much for this informative and exciting discussion. It is great to note that Sustainability and Sustainable Tourism are making considerable progress in Chile, also thanks to your long-time and multi-faceted efforts.

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