PiCaSo Tours, the tour operator based in Léon (Guanajuato, Mexico), originated with the mission of offering visitors a unique experience in the emblematic cultural and productive environment around leather, the shoes industry, and the sombrero of Léon also known as the Pearl of Central Mexico.
Through a tourism product of Leonese identity based on Economic Discovery Tourism (TDE), history, modern and traditional production processes, know-how, quality products and points of sale are highlighted, as well as achievements in favor of sustainability. We talked with Manuel Miroglio, General Director of PiCaSo Tours.
Laura: RutaPiCaSo was created to shine a light on the world of leather shoes and sombreros in central Mexico. How did the idea of a tourist route based on this industry arise?
Manuel: The idea for Ruta PiCaSo came out in 2010 during a conversation with my students from the Technological University of Leon, when we were discussing the touristic potential and various attractions of the city. I was giving them an example of how in France there is a form of cultural tourism that explores artisanal and industrial activities in a particular region, also known as economic discovery tourism.
As the city of Leon is known as the world capital of leather and footwear, and the neighboring municipality of San Francisco del Rincon has a long-standing tradition of sombrero crafting, we came up with the idea of creating a tourist route that would allow the discovery of the history and production chain in the leather industry. We began to explore the idea of personalized visits to tanneries, factories, and specialized workshops.
Laura: What kind of sustainability strategies have been implemented in the PiCaSo Tours?
Manuel: I can think of several examples. One of our sustainable tourism products is the creation of the Leon Bike Tour, the very first cultural tour of the city without CO2 emissions allowing you to appreciate on bicycle 16 emblematic sights in León, its traditional trade and its typical gastronomy.
We also have the Sustainability Route, a one-of-a-kind experience in Latin America in which we explore best practices in public institutions, natural parks, and private companies in the field of sustainability in the city of León, Gto.
In addition, we have developed a dynamic evaluation tool for tourism providers based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria (GSTC), which was presented at the 2017 Mexican Congress of Applied Research in Tourism titled “Sustainable Tourism for Development”.
We have also received the International Biosphere Responsible Tourism certification in the category of Tourism Experience in 2017.
But foremost, I would like to highlight our collaboration with institutions in favor of sustainability: such as a reforestation campaign of an ecological park with the state tourism board on International Tree Day, our sponsorship of social activities organized by the Corazon Mexicano Foundation to help at-risk young people in urban areas, our work with the Technological University of León when receiving regular university interns, our involvement in organizing a specific event for the international campaign ‘’Earth Hour’’, conferences given in several universities, or our participation in the sustainability chapter of the ATUCEG (Spanish acronym for Association of Cultural Tourism Operators of the State of Guanajuato).
Last but not least, I should mention the promotion of small companies in the leather -footwear industry to enhance their artisanal know-how.
Laura: How do you think regenerative tourism concepts can be applied to this type of tourism?
Manuel: regenerative tourism seeks transformative experiences that will, according to Sonia Teruel (author of an interesting thesis on the topic), emotionally involve the tourist, while adding relational values, sensations, emotions that may create new habits, perspectives or mentality during this process.
One of the main concepts of regenerative tourism is the promotion of three types of relationships in the touristic experience: with oneself, with others and with nature (or place visited), and creating a special sense of connection with each one.
Although regenerative tourism should ideally be practiced in a natural environment to foster this deep connection with nature, we can reflect on how to apply this concept in a different context, like an urban space, which corresponds to our typology of economic discovery tourism.
Relationship with oneself: creating moments of personal reflection to foster a particular awareness derived from previous life experiences. Be amazed, for example, at the sight of the amount of steps required to create a unique pair of shoes, can raise awareness about the meticulous work involved, giving added value to the product and the shoemaker for his skills. This personal reflection will certainly influence the visitor’s shopping behavior in the future.
Relationship with others: creating collective learning spaces through manual and/or physical exercises will allow all group members to shine. For example, learning how to craft a leather wallet allows you to put yourself in the artisan’s shoes, appreciating not only his know-how, but also his role in the production chain required for the complete elaboration of the article.
Relationship with nature (or the place visited): to sense a place’s unique essence through sight, touch, smell and hearing will allow the visitor to identify the characteristics of an immersive experience. This sensorial discovery leads to a deeper connection with the spirit of the place or territory visited.
Laura: Without a doubt, regenerative tourism offers many possibilities. What else can transformative urban experiences offer?
Manuel: Another concept of regenerative tourism, as emphasized by Martin Araneda, a facilitator of Camina Sostenible, is related to the sustainable, sensory, intellectual, social emotional and spiritual dimensions of the touristic experience.
–Sustainable in the promotion of best practices during the tourist experience in terms of a respectful attitude, responsible purchases from local businesses or concrete actions in favor of the environment.
– Sensory through the stimulation of the senses, allowing visitors to feel unique sensations during their tourist experience. Be it by tasting the traditional effervescent drink of Leٕón, touching different finishes of leather skins, or making your own leather article.
– Intellectual by generating analysis, reflections and questions about things seen or heard: discovering the relevance of a local know-how, questioning the complexity of a production chain, understanding the environmental challenges of an industry, or listening to the history of the main economic sector to understand its roots and role in shaping a city.
– Social in the human interactions a visitor can have during his tourist experience, be it with the tanner, the shoemaker, the artisan, the factory owner, the guide, the local merchants or even with other tour participants.
– Emotional in the ability for a tourist experience to allow a visitor to feel a transformation, by generating unique feelings and emotions, the sense that it was worth living the experience fully to get a new perspective or vision of a destination, culture, or industry, which then allows to connect with a place’s charisma.
– Spiritual by living unique experiences allowing visitors to appreciate a person or community’s spiritual beliefs or religious practices. This can be listening to the Angelus Prayer during the lunch break in a hat factory, or learning the shoemaker’s prayer, or discovering the tanners’ and shoemakers’ patron saints. Experiencing a community’s sacred moments, or an individual’s spirituality creates spaces of communion to better understand the local idiosyncrasy.
Laura: How has the local population reacted to others valuing their knowledge and culture?
Manuel: The pride of sharing traditional trades with both national and international visitors is an intrinsic part of the city of León’s history and identity. It is the satisfaction of seeing the value that visitors place in their craft, when they see the amount of work involved in making a leather article, from the tanning of skins to the finished product. Ruta PiCaSo has put their work on display to the world, and that is why it is considered strategic for their companies.
Oscar, from the Santamaría tannery, recognizes it has been a great privilege to publicize his work through Ruta PiCaSo, sharing his trade in leather products with visitors from around the world.
For Hugo, from the Santamaria tannery, it’s been a source of pride to show everything that involves finishing leather to turn it into a boot or a shoe. Ruta PiCaSo has given them access to the world, which he sees as a great advantage for his company. He feels very proud to work in the world capital of leather and shoemaking, and to demonstrate his quality craft.
Abel is the project manager for the fine leather goods workshop Casa Esmeralda. He proudly tells of the motivation they receive from all those visitors from across the world, when the workers show them warmly the products they make with love. ‘’We love what we do’’ he says.
Claudio López, from the designer shoe workshop Atelier Amareto, says that after working with Ruta PiCaSo for several years, he has no doubt as to the value added. For him, Ruta PiCaSo conveys more information and values to its visitors than any other organization he had worked with before. He emphasizes that Ruta PiCaSo is very good at attracting tourists from Mexico and elsewhere and that all those people who come to the route without having much idea of what they are going to see, leave amazed in the end. He recognizes that his employees have become fond of the tourists and love to share their passion for their work.
According to Claudio, Ruta PiCaSo is able to communicate the values, knowledge and emotions involved in each step of the elaboration of the leather, the footwear and the hats, while interacting with each link of the production chain. He admits that Ruta PiCaSo has been a wonderful ally for his workshop since it goes beyond offering a service, it is creating history and catalyzing León’s famous industry.