CUZCO, Peru (Reuters Life!) – Complete with five-star hotels, world-class restaurants, luxury trains and an indoor oxygen system, Tim Jones’ trip to the famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru was anything but rough.
And Peru’s government could not be happier with tourists who spend more than thrifty backpackers who have long had a strong presence in the Andean country’s tourism market.
“It’s not that we don’t like backpackers … but a lot of our campaigns are focused on luxury,” Mercedes Araoz, Peru’s trade and tourism minister, told Reuters.
In recent months, Cusco, some 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level, has been visited by software billionaire Bill Gates and the actress Cameron Diaz, both of whom participated in traditional indigenous ceremonies.
Gone are the days of high altitude headaches, plastic tents and pots of plain rice. Today’s high-end travelers to Machu Picchu, Peru’s top tourist attraction, stay in hotels, dine at restaurants and relax with massages, yoga and aromatherapy.
Jones, 48, said he shelled out thousands for the trip.
“All told, it’s good quality for the price,” said Jones, waiting for dinner service on a luxury train between Machu Picchu and Cuzco, a city high in the mountains, some 680 miles southwest of Peru’s capital, Lima.
Last year, the ancient Incan city was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, raising hopes for 2008 tourism.
But the goal is not just to get people in the country, the government said. It is to increase what people spend.
“It is important to distinguish between quantity and quality. We want a balance,” said Mara Seminario, director of Peru’s state-run tourism group.
Each year, travelers contribute some $2 billion to Peru’s economy and the government says a thriving tourism sector helps lift incomes in a country where 12 million people, some 45 percent of the population, live in poverty.
“The election of Machu Picchu as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World was a first step. The real goal is to promote tourism to help regional economic development,” said Seminario.