Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Machu Picchu: Impact of Tourism


Some Potential Benefits and Costs to the Community From Tourism


Social Benefits

•  Brings in outside dollars to support community facilities and services that otherwise might not be developed.

•  Encourages civic involvement and pride.

•  Provides cultural exchange between hosts and guests.

•  Encourages the preservation and celebration of local festivals and cultural events.

•  Facilities and infrastructure supported by tourism (e.g. the railway) can also benefit residents.

•  Encourages the learning of new languages and skills.

Inca burial site excavation


Social Costs

•  May attract visitors whose lifestyles and ideas conflict with the community's.

•  May change individual behaviour and family relationships.

•  Overloading of porters leads to health problems

•  May lead to the loss of traditional values and culture through imitation of visitor behaviour or cultural diffusion resulting from normal, everyday interaction.

•  Crowding and congestion on the roads, footpaths and in the narrow streets.

•  Tourists compete with residents for available services and facilities. Backpackers use the local train rather than the much more luxurious and expensive tourist train.

•  Leads to an increase in crime in the area.

•  Desecration of burial sites and the removal and display of human remains from Machu Picchu to further stimulate tourism. This has contributed to the destruction of the Indian spiritual heritage.

Environmental Benefits

•  Fosters conservation and preservation of natural, cultural and historical resources.

•  Could be considered a clean industry.

Tourists on the Inca Trail


Plastic water bottles litter the route

Environmental Costs

•  Up to 2,000 people visit the Machu Picchu citadel every day, with visitor numbers growing at 6 percent a year. The site is being slowly eroded by tourists' feet.

•  Machu Picchu is located among steep slopes that are constantly being eroded by heavy rains and landslides are common. Although the recovery of the original terraces, many of which are still buried under the vegetation, helps to stabilise the slopes and ensure conservation, it is a costly undertaking.

•  Timber has been cut along the Inca trail for fuel for cooking and forest fires in the vicinity have threatened Machu Picchu on several occasions.

•  Until now, the influx of visitors has been kept under control to the extent that the only way of reaching the site was by railway. But plans to build a road from Cuzco and a cable car running from the valley to the top of Machu Picchu could lead to irreparable harm being done.

•  The number of people hiking along the Inca Trail rose from 6,000 in 1984 to 82,000 in 2000. The trail is being eroded and tea bags and water bottles litter the route, where campsites are scarce.

•  Unorganized urban growth in the area with human waste pumped direct into the Urubamba river. Aguas Calientes has mushroomed in size as more hotels and restaurants have been built to accommodate the needs of tourists, and the burden is evident in the heaps of garbage piled along the banks of the Urubamba river.

•  Helicopters have been allowed to fly in tourists and operate low-flying tours, thereby disturbing not only the peaceful quality of the ruins, but potentially damaging them. Peru's Institute of Natural Resources said those flights led to the disappearance of a rare species of orchid and the Andean Condor from the area.

Economic Benefits

• Attracts high-spending tourists from higher socio-economic groups.

•  Provides governments with extra tax revenues each year through accommodation and restaurant taxes, airport taxes, sales taxes, Inca trail and Machu Picchu entrance fees, employee income tax etc.. At $20 an entrance ticket, Machu Picchu generates $6 million a year for Peru, while the Inca trail brings in another $3 million, according to Machu Picchu Management.

•  Creates local jobs and business opportunities. These include those jobs directly related to tourism (hotel and tour services) and those that indirectly support tourism (such as food production and housing construction).

•  The multiplier effect:

  • Brings new money into the economy. Tourist money is returned to the local economy as it is spent over and over again.
  • Helps attract additional businesses and services to support the tourist industry.

•  Is labour-intensive.

•  Earns valuable foreign exchange.

Economic Costs

• Inflates property values and prices of goods and services.

• Employment tends to be seasonal. Workers are laid off in the low season.

• Tourist numbers can be adversely affected by events beyond the control of the destination e.g. terrorism,  economic recession. This is a problem in Peru for the country is over-dependent upon tourism. Tourism dependency

• leakage- the money earned by tourism does not stay in the country but is used to pay for imports required by tourists.

• The jobs provided are usually poorly paid.

Machu Picchu landslide