A social practice approach to nature-based tours : the case of the Marble Caves in Northern Patagonia, Chile

Bachmann-Vargas, Pamela; Koppen, C.S.A. van; Lamers, Machiel


Chile’s Northern Patagonia attracts thousands of tourists, who every summer venture to undertake a range of outdoor activities. In this article, we explore the local production of outdoor activities, by conceptualizing small-scale nature-based tours as a social practice. The study is based on empirical research, taking as a case study the development of the Marble Caves tour, an iconic destination in Northern Patagonia, Chile. The touring practice is analyzed based on the interplay of its material components, required competences and symbolic meanings. Our findings demonstrate that the persistence of the practice is particularly reliant on the competences of the tour operators, and on the abiotic nature of the tourist attraction. Fostering tour guide competences therefore contributes to the sustainability and performance of the practice. We contend that tourism policy interventions that aim to harmonize local development and environmental protection need to carefully analyze and take into account existing social practices.