Nov. 3, 2015

José Koechlin


José Koechlin

Founder & CEO, Inkaterra

"Working in far away, remote areas, you need staff to stay long term."


José Koechlin established Inkaterra in 1975, pioneering ecotourism and sustainable development as an economic basis for biodiversity conservation. Acknowledged by AACSB in its “100 World Influential Leaders” list, he is also Chairman of Sociedad Hoteles del Perú, and E-Meritus Board Member of Conservation International (Washington DC). To promote travel experiences in Peru, he co-produced Werner Herzog’s classic films Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Fitzcarraldo (Best Director, Cannes Film Festival 1982), and Les Blank’s documentary Burden of Dreams.

Over the last decades, Inkaterra has managed to pioneer the field of sustainable tourism in the Peruvian part of the Amazon region. What is the current status of ecotourism in Peru?

When we started in the mid-1970s, the product was nature, and still is. Sustainability for us is essential and not a term used lightly. The key in this industry is making conservation profitable, creating local employment to integrate the community with tourism, and creating value for the people, for the environment, and for the country. Peru is now a strong market, worldwide. It is beautiful, safe, comfortable, with high-quality gastronomy, which is currently one of the most promising segments. Tourism and eco-tourism have always been considered a good venue for generating income, and while we have made many improvements, we are still only just beginning. The international community is rewarding our efforts; Conde Nast selected us among the Top 25 Hotels in South America and our hotel in Cusco is No. 3 in South America, and Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is also listed.

How much is Inkaterra investing in training and hiring staff?

Working in far away, remote areas, you need staff to stay long term. Local people who are integrated in the community with their families and social network are the best option for human capital in the long run, so we invest in training them. We estimate that we have trained approximately 4,000 locals, and three of them are currently hotel managers.

How have you collaborated with the scientific community toward the development of the local ecosystem?

In that regard, the NGO Inka Terra Association (ITA) plays a fundamental role. Self-funded through ecotourism, ITA manages initiatives on scientific research, conservation, education and sustainable development in our areas of influence; the Amazon rainforest of Madre de Dios, the Machu Picchu cloud forest, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the city of Cusco, and the Cabo Blanco Pacific Ocean and desert. For instance, 747 bird species have been inventoried within hotel grounds and 28 new species to science have been described. Outcomes are presented in publications such as Cusco Amazónico. The Lives of Amphibians and Reptiles in an Amazonian Rainforest (Cornell University Press, 2005), a 20-year-long research led by William E. Duellman, described by Cornell University as “the baseline against which all future studies of Amazonian amphibians and reptiles will be compared." Flórula de la Reserva Ecológica Inkaterra was published by ITA and the Missouri Botanical Garden, a database of 1,266 vascular plant species registered at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. And Orchids at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (Inkaterra, 2007) presents 187 of the 372 native orchid species at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, the world's largest collection of native orchid species found in their natural habitat, according to the American Orchid Society.

Where do you see opportunities for investment in tourism in Peru?

The most straightforward examples are where the market already exists, in Lima and Cusco. That is for the foreign market, but for the local domestic market the opportunity is anywhere in Peru, because now we have a middle class that expects to have a better quality of life and they can pay for it. A new destination with rising potential is Cabo Blanco, a fishing village in north-west Peru, 3km north-west of El Alto, Talara, Piura. Cabo Blanco still holds two game fishing world records. In 1953, the all-tackle world record (a 1560lb black marlin, filmed when caught by Warner Bros. for its adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea) was landed by Alfred Glassell in this fishing cove in Northern Peru. Four years later, the largest tuna ever caught (a 435lb bigeye tuna) confirmed its international status as a sport fishing mecca. Celebrities visited Cabo Blanco, such as Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway, who went in search of standing marlins on board the iconic fishing boat Miss Texas, recently restored by Inkaterra and captained by Norm Isaacs, described by GAFF Magazine as “the Mick Jagger of sport fishing." Six decades on, Inkaterra has presented to the Ministry of Environment a technical proposal for the creation of Peru's first marine reserve in the tropical sea of Cabo Blanco, where resides 70% of the country's ichthyologic diversity. By promoting sustainable fishing methods among local communities and developing ecotourism activities, it is helping to recover Cabo Blanco's natural and cultural heritage.

What are your short-term ambitions?

We have recently launched the new Field Station Tambopata. It is a gateway to the Amazonian environment, outreaching authentic experiences as in all Inkaterra hotels. Field Station Tambopata hosts scientists, volunteers, and national and foreign students in a cozy lodge built with native materials and ancestral techniques of the Ese'Eja native community. Eco-friendly excursions and activities are oriented to research studies on biology, geography, sustainable tourism, environmental engineering, and others, while allowing guests to explore the region's mega diversity and cultural richness.