Journal article

Climate change adaptation of the tourism sector in the Bolivian Andes

Over the last 40 years, warmer temperatures have caused a considerable decrease in snow cover on glaciers and high rates of glacial melt, particularly in tropical mountains. In the Bolivian Andes, the Chacaltaya glacier (5400 masl) had been a tourist destination known as the highest ski slope in the world since 1939. As a result of climate change, skiing has not been possible after 1987 and the glacier definitely disappeared in 2009. However, since 2005, the place has become a new attraction for tourists. Travel agencies in La Paz now offer day trips to the Chacaltaya site. In order to understand the present attraction of the site and its potential for reproduction elsewhere, 25 semi-structured interviews were conducted with various categories of stakeholders involved in the tourism industry in La Paz, and archives and images were analysed. Our results show that the multifunctional character of this tourist site, including easy access to a summit, beautiful views, acclimatisation to altitude and opportunity to experience snow, are key factors in its renewed attraction for visitors, together with, to a lesser extent, the incentive of being able to watch a famous and evident full disappearance of a glacier and former ski slope. The stakeholders' groups share general views and perceptions about environmental changes and about the qualities of the site, but they also differ in terms of projects and evaluation of potential attractiveness. In particular, the development of the visibility of climate change impacts on mountain environment is valued by experts or by members of the Andean Club, but not by travel agencies. The example of Chacaltaya shows that multifunctional tourist sites may still be attractive in the future.


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