Tourism Stories: Cristina Suaña (Peru)

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Cristina Suaña started her own lodging business on the floating islands of Los Uros Khantati in Peru after a Dutch couple gave her the idea of setting up an overnight cottage on one of the islands.  Inspired by the visitors, she decided to establish her own lodging business despite the lack of access to electricity and water. Ten years later, Cristina´s business is a family affair and has expanded into a fully-equipped ten bedroom lodging house, big enough to involve all her family members in the enterprise. Leading by example, Cristina has shown her community how tourism can contribute to their welfare and to the education of their children. 

        Los Uros Khantati

"I am Cristina Suaña, and I live in the floating island of Los Uros Khantati. This is my story… 

‘Khantati’ is an Aymaran word meaning ‘dawn’.

I was actually born on another island further away from here. When I was young I did not know of tourists – I was very afraid of them. When I married my husband, I moved into this area. Like all women here, my work was weaving crafts. I was taking care of the house and my children.

When a Dutch couple told me “Cristina, why don’t you set up a cottage, someone might want to spend the night on the island,” I thought it was a fantastic idea and I thought that maybe, someday, this might work.

So, we started with the the first, very small room, and in the first year we received two, four couples. We are already in our tenth year now. Those tourists gave us tips on how to advance our work. Year after year, I have continued working.

We are always waiting for a tourist or a friend to come. We always want them to leave very happy and pleased with our business, with our home. We hope that they enjoy the floating beds at our small venture that we call “Hotel with floating beds”.

In the beginning, some people in the community said that we were crazy, even my husband. He would say “you are crazy, no one will stay there.” No one believed that anyone could stay here because it is quite cold, there is no electricity, and there is no water.

But we pushed this project forward, and now more tourists are coming to stay. Now, when the tourists are coming or leaving in our small boats, the community can see that, yes, a project like this is possible, and tourists will come to stay.

Today, the whole family is involved in this work. For instance, before it was only my husband and I doing everything. Now, I work mainly in the kitchen. My sisters and my cousins are helping me and they are also learning to manage the kitchen so that I can travel and do other things.

My daughter is in charge of bookings. She is the one managing bookings and answering requests. She decided that to become more of a success in this business she needed to study. So, she studied tourism. She understands the subject. Having her return home after her studies is my greatest satisfaction as a mother. She is already working in our project as the boss.

My son is working with the transfers, he goes to the terminal, to different hotels, to the airport; he goes where the tourists are. My husband takes the tourists out in the boat for fishing.

My sister shows tourists our handicrafts, and teaches them how to do it.

During the evenings, my nephews play music and bring joy to the party; we sing and dance. The kids have also become interested in continuing their studies. They say “I want to be a guide, I want to be this, I want to be that, I want to be a chef.” So, I am very happy because now the company is not only mine, it belongs to the entire family.

We are a very big family. We were ten brothers and sisters.Two have died, so now we are eight siblings. We have gone through very difficult times in my family, with my parents. I think if it wasn’t for this project, maybe I would have continued living on my island far away, working with fishing night and day. There were days when we caught fish and others when we didn’t, days when we had something to eat and days when we didn’t. But now, with this venture, I have learnt how to organize my family in terms of food, and have my children studying as well.

I think this can be called a sustainable project as it is about caring for our environment, respecting our people, all of this. It is also about valuing our identity. Now, we are talking to our grandmothers and grandfathers, talking with our elders, asking them “How did we use to be, where did we come from..?” This helps me understand where I have come from.

I am always telling to our fellow brothers in other communities “Invest your time in training, in learning how to manage this type of business. With each client, you will gain something every time and keep expanding, expanding, expanding” like we did. Now we already have ten rooms with 20 beds, and we have also bought this platform to expand our kitchen and dining room. We bought solar panels. We are doing the transport, and more houses. So I am always telling my brothers to invest their time in training, invest their money to buy and implement their business.

My dream is to create a small travel agency so that the tourists can come directly from their country to our houses in different parts of our country. It can be in Cuzco, in Arequipa, in Lima, in Lambayeque… In different places, wherever our communities can receive tourists. This is our dream."