The REMOTE team had a lovely chat with Petit, a big hearted woman who settled in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
We connected directly with the owner of Sol y Luna, a member of the REMOTE community since its foundation in 2016, to get inspiration about social impact tourism and fresh perspectives on the new normal in the Travel industry.
Embark with us on this conversation.
What brought you to Peru?
Petit: I worked in the mining industry and that is how my husband and I relocated from Switzerland to Peru more than 25 years ago. At first, we stayed in Lima for about 3 years, but then decided to move to the Sacred Valley in the search of a lifestyle connected to the Pacha Mama.
At the time we decided to make it our home, the valley was not at all touristy and there were almost no foreigners.
Sol y Luna was a pioneering independent property operating in the third sector here and Latin America at large.
Why did you decide to support the cause of local education?
Petit: We were literally following our dream of being useful to other people and making a difference, starting with where we were. When you think of the sustainability of any good you want to do, you soon realize that everything ultimately comes down to education. To make a change you have to help people be actors in their own lives and children are the best way to start. I soon realized again that everything is connected. We should be useful to each other: to the family, the people we work with and our community in order to see the results and make any project sustainable.
How does sustainabilty relate to social impact?
Petit: It all goes together. You can’t separate them. You can’t act with the community if you aren’t doing good for the environment. One thing or the other isn’t going to be enough. If you want to be a leader and make a difference where you live or work, which in the case of lodging owners, they both go together. You should be concerned with both causes.
How do you see social impact and the conscious travel niche in Latin America today?
Petit: Today we see many hotels opening for business reasons. They’re essentially looking at the financial opportunity they can get out of that destination. Owners rarely come with the mindset of fostering local sustainability. Unfortunately, green washing is quite common in our maket too, where fake projects are held up for marketing reasons.
With a lot of hotel chains, it’s all about the money in the end. We all know that. But from the guest’s point of view, I can see this very clearly.
Luxury is mostly about the guest’s experience and I have many examples of guests giving reviews that their most cherished memory was visiting the foundation.
Supporting the local community was the most amazing thing, they say, because they were caught off-guard. They found their hearts being touched unexpectedly. That’s because they knew they were going to see Machu Picchu, to enjoy a spectacular view from their window. That was no surprise. But when they came to Sol y Luna they never expected to be in contact with the locals like that.
Also, most of them did not know about our third sector story beforehand. After they found out, they wanted to pay more money.
What advice do you have for other lodge owners who want to start implementing social impact projects in their region?
Petit: First, you should know that even if you’re a property owner and you might come from another “wealthy culture,” as is my case, that doesn’t make you better then anyone else.
I came from Europe and, seeing Peru for the first time, I was shocked by the different way of thinking and living here. But then I learned that the first thing is to be respectful.
Watch, look, understand and don’t judge, if you truly want to make a difference. Start out by making your property sustainable: Avoid using plastic, pay attention to the energy source that you use. The way you work with your staff, how you treat them. Make yourself accessible to your staff.
On top of everything, my advice is to put together a great staff and know your mission, what you want your property to be and what you really want to provide to your guests. Then find a project that communicates your mission. If you can’t find one, create your own.
How can it be possible to reconcile owning a luxurious property and acting as a social worker?
Petit: Often times people think that thriving as a business owner and also having a successful social project is kind of strange. People don’t see how those things can go together, but I can assure you they match very well.
Petit the humanitarian nourishes Petit the business woman. That is how it goes together.
Do you believe social impact is part of the new normal for the tourism industry?
Petit: I believe we should start disassociating luxury from material things, possessions. Luxury is not about things. It’s about spending time experiencing emotions. Owners should stop relating to things. There is only so much money that’s needed. They can start sharing money and time with locals.
Do you have any advice for Travel Designers looking for a charity partner for their guests? How can they learn about the credentials of a local social organization?
Petit: Travel Designers should make sure they’re well-informed. Who’s behind the project? The internet is a great research tool. Find people around you who have visited the organization.
I am a mentor in the Conscious Travel Foundation, which is a good source for serious people connected to the cause. Before you donate money you have to be truly inspired.
How do you see this new era in the Travel Industry? What message would you give to the community?
Petit: Let’s all enjoy things the way they are, because it is what it is.
When travel comes back, it should come back in a different way. Business as usual is damaging the planet.
The world should slow down.
Enough with the bucket lists. When I see people coming to my hotel to stay one night I see the disconnect. We should travel less in a more conscious manner.
We should travel in a more respectful manner, connecting with people, the country and its culture.
Educate ourselves more in terms of the culture we’re visiting: what’s appealing to me, what I want to see, to experience.
Breathe and disconnect from our fears, especially the fear of scarcity.
Let’s make the new normal in the travel industry be about exchange and community.