In this post I summarize the philosophy, the history, and the projects of the Atlas association of Gran Canaria, with whom I have been volunteering with over the last month of August 2016. I drafted this text together with Chelsea.
Ours is a campaign for sustainable travel as an alternative to mass tourism. We exist to re-think the act of travel, promote encounters, partner with the local community, and build exchanges for experiences, not just excursions. Join the campaign!
Gran Canaria and the Canary Islands in general are a favourite destination for many travelers, making it a popular place for mass tourism to occur. In 2015, almost 12 million of international tourists landed in one of the seven islands of the archipelago. Mass tourism is generally considered to be an opportunity for local development. Yet, the benefits of mass tourism are highly concentrated. Economically, for instance, an estimated one in four of the tourists who come to the Canary Islands arrive as part of all-inclusive vacations rarely venturing out of their hotels. In fact, the rate of unemployment in the Canary Islands stands at nearly 31%, being one of the highest in Europe, in spite of the enormous influx of tourism arriving to the islands every year.
Graffiti Tourist(s?) go home
Graffiti: Turism es miseria
Graffiti ‘Tourist go Home’ in Barcelona
The “Tourists Go Home” movement in gaining momentum all throughout Europe and in many places in Spain. In Gran Canaria, this movement is already creating a tension and a difficult connection between local residents and tourists. Atlas began with these things in mind. We wanted to create an association that would promote an alternative to mass tourism: when large cities shout #TouristsGoHome, we extend the invitation #TravelersWelcome. When Atlas was created in the Summer of 2015, we built our story and our practices upon the foundation and common objective to start a campaign involving travelers with the local communities and local communities into the experience of travelers.
THE ATLAS CAMPAIGN
Atlas exists at the core of a dynamic web of relations involving an expansive, yet closely-knit, network of global and local associations and NGOs as well as volunteers and travelers. This is what we call ‘the Atlas campaign’.
The Atlas campaign is based on a partnership between travelers and the local community, which has three characteristics. First, it is Open. Our association welcomes and encourages alternative travellers from all over the world to come together in collaboration and as a community of volunteers, artists, researchers, writers, students, entrepreneurs, and those simply looking to take a vacation in an accommodation that offers more than a bed to sleep in. Second, it is Expanding. As more and more people are joining in we are making a greater impact. Not just within the community, not just within the lives of those who contribute their time, talents and financial resources to it, but also on a larger scale, situating our campaign within the global movement to re-think travelling and its economic, social, and ecological impact. Third, it is Equal. We believe in and stand for equality amongst all parties involved in this partnership, the campaign does not embody a vertical hierarchy, using and share our strengths equally. The Atlas campaign is open, ever-expanding, and horizontal.
The projects of our campaign are geared specifically toward Gran Canaria, but are situated within a broader context. Our campaign is part of a global movement for alternative travelling as an alternative to mass tourism. In 2012, the number of international travellers in the world crossed the symbolic threshold of one billion for the first time, and forecasts of the UN’s World Tourism Organization predicts that the two billion mark will be reached by 2030. These constantly increasing figures show the enormous potential of traveling for global change. Yet, the impact of mass tourism is economically concentrated, socially uncertain, and ecologically detrimental. Our campaign is part of a global community that encourages individuals to use alternative travel for social, economic, and environmental benefits.
In 1995 the Charter for Sustainable Tourism was adopted at the first World Conference on Sustainable Tourism, held in Lanzarote, one of the seven islands of Gran Canaria. This historic action took place under the auspices of UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the leading associated international organisations and related programmes, such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the MAB Programme (Man and the Biosphere), the World Heritage Centre, the European Commission and the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development. Twenty years later, in 2015 a new Charter for Sustainable Tourism was signed by the participants at the World Summit on Sustainable Tourism meeting in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the Basque Country, Spain. We share the objectives of these international charters in carrying global tourism towards more responsible ways of conducting and conceiving this activity; and we promote concrete projects serving this aim.
The projects of the Atlas campaign are organized into four streams that compose an organic framework for alternative and sustainable travel built on an invitation to enter the island of Gran Canaria, re-think the way we travel, connect with the people and with the place, and explore further.
The first stream of the campaign is the network of accommodations. This represents an invitation to enter Gran Canaria and discover local neighbourhoods and small villages that are situated outside the main tourist routes, in lesser known, authentic, and surprising places to stay. At the moment, Atlas has four accommodations. Atlas Las Palmas is a large hostel that was opened in 2014 in La Isleta, a local barrio that has not been directly affected from by the mass tourism coming to the island’s biggest city. Acusa Seca Cave House is a six-person accommodation that was opened in 2015 in the most isolated cave village on the island that was the site of an aboriginal settlement. El Warung Cave Hostel is a ten-person lodging that was opened in 2012 in Artenara, the highest mountain village of the island. Agaete Hostel is a ten-person hostel in a fishermen’s village on the coast that will be opened towards the end of 2016. The network of accommodations is designed to encourage conscious traveling aimed to bring a positive social, ecological, and economic impact for the local communities. All the accommodations that are currently working featured on national newspapers: El Warung in ElDiario, Atlas Las Palmas in LaProvincia, Acusa Seca Cave House in El Pais.
The second stream of the campaign is made of the activities. This is an invitation to re-think the way we travel. The activities include, but are not limited to: Taller de Ideas: a series of talks on contemporary social issues; Science of Travel: a round of presentations given by the volunteers who come to work for Atlas; informative documentaries; concerts featuring local artists and bands; fair-markets. The activities are designed to reflect upon the impact of traveling on local communities and inspire individuals to invent their own journey.
The third stream of the campaign is made of the festivals. This is an invitation to create connections in the course of a three to five-day event. At the moment, Atlas is part of the organization of two festivals. Las Palmas Gathering, a five-day festival started in 2015 where alternative travelers and boat-hikers tell their stories and hike together. Alife Artenara, a three-day festival of yoga, music, meditation, and hiking started in 2016. The festivals are designed to promote community lifestyle and establish a profound connection across participants, as well as between participants and the setting where the festivals take place.
Finally, the fourth stream of the campaign is made of thru-hiking. This is an invitation to explore the most remotes parts of island traveling only by feet and by boat. Atlas is currently promoting two trails. Canary Islands End-to-End is a project to foster the use of one of Europe’s longest and least known Grand Randonnees, the Canary Islands Trail, or GR 131, a seven-island trail that can be done in less than a month hiking through coastlines, volcanoes, mountains, plateaus, deserts, pine forests. Agaete-Artenara-Tamada Trail is a three-day hike from the Pacific Ocean to the highest village in Gran Canary and the second highest village of Spain. These experiences of thru-hiking are designed to give all travellers, from the most trained to the least experienced, the opportunity to embark in a unique journey where their feet are the only engine.
The projects of Atlas have expanded quickly over time. Today, the aim of the campaign remains that of promoting travel as an organic experience, covering different aspects of sustainability. The realization of these projects has been possible thanks to the collaboration of local associations, travellers, and volunteers alike. In fact, whether you’re staying in our accommodations, volunteering for the month or attending an informative discussion on our rooftop terrace, we desire to express together a concrete idea of alternative tourism aimed at creating learning opportunities for empowerment, growth and global understanding.
JOIN THE CAMPAIGN
All those who share our philosophy are welcome to join the campaign. There are different ways to become involved.