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Agricultura, sociedad y desarrollo

versão impressa ISSN 1870-5472

agric. soc. desarro vol.13 no.1 Texcoco Jan./Mar. 2016



Emblematic foods and tourism: the link between the bola cheese from Ocosingo and the regional tourism offer

Mónica A. Agudelo-López1 

Alfredo Cesín-Vargas1  * 

Humberto Thomé-Ortíz1 

1 Unidad Académica de Estudios Regionales, Coordinación de Humanidades, UNAM. México. (


The links between the Bola cheese from Ocosingo and the tourism offer in the San Cristobal de las Casas- Palenque corridor are analyzed. Through a mixed and multidisciplinary study, the spatial, economic, social and cultural relationships that influence processes of valuation and revaluation of emblematic foods as touristic capital are discussed. The data were obtained in 2013; results show the existence of a singular food product, associated to a territory with low tourism rating, which implies the need to link resources, spaces and people. It is concluded that the opportunity to suggest valuation strategies for the cheese is related to the exploitation of the regional touristic influx, which implies processes of dissemination, communication and reinterpretation of the agrifood patrimony within the regional tourism offer.

Keywords: agrifood patrimony; touristic product; artisanal cheeses; valuation


Se analizan las vinculaciones entre el queso Bola de Ocosingo y la oferta turística del corredor San Cristóbal de las CasasPalenque. Se discute, a través de un estudio mixto y multidisciplinario, las relaciones espaciales, económicas, sociales y culturales que influyen en los procesos de valorización y revalorización de los alimentos emblemáticos cómo capital turístico. Los datos se obtuvieron en 2013; los resultados muestran la existencia de un producto alimentario singular, asociado a un territorio con baja calificación turística, lo que implica la necesidad de vincular recursos, espacios y personas. Se concluye que la oportunidad para plantear estrategias de valorización del queso está relacionada con el aprovechamiento de la afluencia turística regional, lo que implica procesos de difusión, comunicación y reinterpretación del patrimonio agroalimentario dentro de la oferta turística regional.

Palabras clave: patrimonio agroalimentario; producto turístico; quesos artesanales; valorización


Traditional foods as touristic resources within the context of globalization

Economic and cultural globalization (Beck, 1998) constitutes the reference framework for the analysis of the widespread growth and standardization of agrifood systems, as well as their production and consumption trends (Díaz and González, 2008; Menasche, 2013). The social preoccupation over rescuing that which is local through a dietary culture that links authentic products to a piece of land arises from this (Fritscher, 2002; Espeitx, 2004). The existence of a consumer who dissociates himself from homogeneous tendencies is made evident through differentiated consumption (Bourdieu, 1998), in which products, homeland and social actors are articulated.

The growing offer of widespread agrifood products has generated, according to Espeitx (2008), a favorable situation for the revaluation of that which is local through strategies that lead to recognizing the products of the earth as dietary patrimony of the society.

On the other hand, tourism is the economic activity with greatest growth in recent years, and is also marked by a trend towards differentiation through diversified tourism destinations, associated with the heritage (OMT, 2012). Thus, the link between foods and tourism is a growing trend. According to Prats (2011), there are two phenomena in rise during recent years: on the one hand, the need to rescue local gastronomy in face of industrial widespread gastronomy. On the other hand, the weakening of the conventional touristic offer, which demands the development of new products and services associated to culture and to the resources characteristic of each territory. For Espeitx (2008), tourism has taken on economic importance in recent years, so that it represents an adequate means for the valuation and exhibition of agrifood culture. Likewise, Thomé (2010) considers agrifood globalization as the reference framework to analyze transformations of the countryside, the pluri-activity of the territory, and the emergence of new tourism practices associated to the critical state of the rural and urban scopes. In this sense, localized agrifood systems can constitute touristic attractions to the extent that they are associated to a basket of goods and services that function as the basis and vehicle for the tourism activity (Requier-Desjardins, 2007; Blanco, 2012). This entails an innovative process of material and symbolic appropriation of foods and their associated resources, which responds to an unprecedented modality of outsourcing of the rural space. Doubtless, the multifunctionality of the territory is not a completely new phenomenon, but its interpretation as touristic capital and its massive mediatization are indeed new elements of analysis within rural studies. In this sense, consumption (dietary and touristic) of local products reflects a social construction of land, determined by a double game between territorial specializations and proximities that have a substantial role in the rating and social valuation of spaces (Espeitx, 1996).

México has experienced an important touristic development in recent years, standing out as one of the top ten destinations in the world (OMT, 2012, 2013), associated to the offer of sun and beach, and different types of cultural and archaeological tourism, linked to nature, shopping and cruises with ports on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean coasts (Benseny, 2007). Within this context, Chiapas is considered an important destination because of its archaeological, cultural and natural wealth. The main tourism-receiving cities are San Cristóbal de las Casas (24 %), Tuxtla Gutiérrez (22 %), Palenque (17 %), Comitán de Domínguez (16 %) and Tapachula (12 %). There is a greater influx of national tourists (74.89 %) than international (25.11 %), with San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque as the most visited destinations (OMT et al., 2009).

Likewise, the country has a vast gastronomic wealth that has been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage (Vargas and Montaño, 2010). In spite of this, traditional foods occupy a marginal place in the touristic offer, which is associated to their dispersion in the territory and the backwardness of infrastructure in many territories, making the recognition and valuation of this patrimony as touristic capital something difficult. This is the case of Mexican artisanal cheeses, unknown outside of their territory, but whose role is relevant in terms of their nutritional and gustatory qualities, and because of their economic value as processing activity that generates employment (Cervantes et al., 2013).

Currently there are no official figures to estimate the volume of artisanal cheese production. Cesín and Cervantes (2012) calculate that artisanal cheeses can represent around 25 % of the production of generic cheeses.

Cervantes et al. (2013) have documented 40 genuine cheeses, elaborated in marginal zones of the country and associated to the traditional knowhow of communities. Their production has taken place in isolated rural spaces and under conditions of technological backwardness, which prevents their massive production within the context of the global market (Pomeón, 2007; Cervantes et al., 2013).

The Bola cheese, a food with identity, and its relationships with the territory

The Bola cheese is a Mexican artisanal cheese, exclusively from the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas. It is elaborated with raw cow’s milk, with atypical shape and organoleptic quality. It is a ball of double-cream cheese, covered by a double cover also made of cheese, to the point of quesillo. Its historical origin is uncertain; the most well-known version is that it was first produced in 1927 at the “Laltic” ranch in Ocosingo. Its shape and productive process arose from the need to take advantage of the milk surplus and to give it added value, after a trial and error procedure, which gave place to the cheese as is known today. The cover dries quickly, it protects the filling, stops its maturation, prevents the loss of moisture, and avoids its contamination (Pomeón, 2011; Cervantes et al., 2013; Villegas et al., 2013). This, in addition to particularities of the territory, such as altitude, climate, type of soil, grasses, livestock breeds, and knowhow, give the milk particular conditions that are reflected in its characteristic flavor (Linck et al., 2006; Cervantes et al., 2013) and in the byproducts elaborated with it.

Cheese production in Ocosingo is the result of a complex process of colonization of the territory, from this that it is considered an identity product, related to the social and productive activities of the mestizo population, in which the work of women stands out, highlighting her role in the family economy (Agudelo and Cesín, 2013).

Currently, it is elaborated by 10 artisanal cheese makers who have received and continue transmitting the knowhow (Agudelo and Cesín, 2013). Although they all produce Bola cheese, according to Villegas et al. (2013) there is a high variability in the product because artisanal processes are not standardized, showing a differentiated sensorial wealth among producers and even among cheeses of the same producer. In addition, its quality has been affected by the needs for adaptation to a competitive environment. It is common to find Bola cheese of diverse qualities, for example, with a decrease in time of acidification, resulting in a fresher product and different in organoleptic terms, which, in addition to a low social capital, influence negatively in the recognition of the product in the territory (Pomeón, 2011; Agudelo and Cesín, 2013).

Ocosingo has been scarcely explored in terms of tourism, despite being a mandatory transit point between San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque. The archaeological zone of Toniná is its main resource and is considered an integral part of the itinerary towards the zone of Palenque (OMT et al., 2009).

Regionally, Ocosingo’s dairy agroindustry is recognized, an activity that identifies it as the city of cheeses, whose market is markedly local. In an attempt to promote the cheese and link it to tourism, the municipal government designed the Route of the Bola Cheese from Ocosingo1. The project was left as a proposal that has not advanced at the practical level (Agudelo and Cesín, 2013). Additionally, the Route of Cacao2 was designed, which integrates tourism resources from the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, considering part of the journey of the Route of the Bola Cheese.

Another project with greater national and international recognition is the Maya Route, which includes archaeological destinations in México, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador (Cardona and Magnoni, 2007), within which are found Palenque and Zinacantán, in the state of Chiapas.

The design of routes is a trend in the current tourism policies which, according to Hernández (2011), went from promoting concrete places to complete territories under a structured thematic axis. The same author mentions that the excessive presence of routes evidences the global character of the policies, spaces where other strategies cease to be explored, which could be more appropriate for the dynamics of the territories to contribute to local development.

As a multicultural country, México allows the design of strategies that converge in the valuation and revaluation of local products. Artisanal foods need to continue existing in the markets, for they are the bearers of history and identity of the territories (Linck et al., 2006; Cesín and Cervantes, 2012; Cervantes et al., 2013). In this sense, the objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of including the Bola cheese from Ocosingo as a product with local identity, within the regional tourism offer, seeking to improve the economic conditions of local producers and to contribute elements that allow the differentiation of touristic proposals in the territory. For this purpose, the profile and the motivations of the tourist were analyzed, with an emphasis on their perception of local products.

As hypothesis, it was considered that the touristic potential of a territory, with localized agrifood production, is directly related with the presence of a basket of goods and services that function as vehicle and container of the tourism experience (Requier- Desjardins, 2007). Therefore, the relationship is analyzed between emblematic foods, territorial resources and tourism as an interface that allows evaluating the recreational dimension that food acquires within the context of the sought-after homogenization of taste (Martínez, 2003).


A study case was carried out (Stake, 2000) in which the touristic dynamics in the San Cristobal de las Casas-Palenque corridor were analyzed. From a comparative approach, two localities were studied where the tourism activity and an emblematic agrifood production are potentially complementary. A mixed methodological design was used that included in-depth interviews to obtain qualitative data and semi-structured surveys, processed through descriptive statistical methods, with the SPSS software, version 16. The c i -square test and Fisher’s exact test were used to compare two variables; Mann Whitney for ordinal type scales, and the t test for two independent samples. The in-depth interviews were used as input to analyze the quantitative information contributed by the study.

The data were obtained in 2013 in the municipalities of Ocosingo and San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, where key aspects were researched, such as: i) profile of tourists and travel motivators; ii) valuation of the regional tourism offer; iii) knowledge of local products; and iv) knowledge of agrifood touristic products, all of this with the aim of establishing the possible relationships between tourism activities and the production of Bola cheese from Ocosingo.

Thirteen in-depth interviews were carried out, which are part of a broader study, of which the information contributed was used, primarily by marketers and tourism operators in San Cristóbal de las Casas, and 226 semi-structured surveys, applied in two observation units. Once the data were obtained, a comparative analysis was performed; the surveys were applied in two seasons of the year: i) low season, in May (44.2 %), and ii) high season, in the months of July and August (55.8 %).

For the application of surveys, tourists in transit were selected, chosen randomly, found in representative tourism transects in each observation unit. For this purpose, the archaeological site of Toniná was selected in the case of Ocosingo, and the Santo Domingo tourist walkway for San Cristóbal de las Casas. Regarding the people interviewed, data contributed by active tourism service providers, integrated in the San Cristóbal de las Casas-Palenque corridor, were used; and producers and cheese sellers interested in developing tourist activities as a complementary economic strategy.

For the study, the territorial approach was considered, for the determination of the touristic potential, based on the analysis of the different articulations between actors, resources, products and services (Zimmer and Grassmann, 1996).

Results and Discussion

Tourism demand in the territory

Knowledge of the profile and the motivations of tourists towards a destination constitute a tool for designing products that allow satisfying the demands, broadening the tourism offer, and evaluating the possibility of including new products and services (Alemany et al., 2010). In this case, it is important to understand the possibilities that the Bola cheese has to be inserted into specific market niches, through its connection with the regional tourism activity.

Table 1 presents the profile and the motivations of the tourists who visited San Cristóbal de las Casas and Ocosingo, in addition to the total of the sample studied.

Table 1 Characteristics of the profile of the tourist and motivations for the trip. 

*Thousands of Mexican pesos.

Source: authors’elaboration.

It was found that 74.8 % of the tourists are Mexican (64.2 % in San Cristóbal and 86.8 % in Ocosingo). In Ocosingo, there is greater incidence of regional tourism, since it is not a municipality with a particular touristic interest, generally unknown by the domestic and foreign tourist. Data contributed by the tourism operators in San Cristóbal de las Casas show that the interest for archaeological sites is a defining factor of the movement towards Toniná, which is associated to the level of knowledge that the tourist has about the territory (information obtained from in-depth interviews).

The data show that 44.3 % of the visitors to Ocosingo come from the state and 42.5 % from others, which suggests that certain territories, apparently marginal, can have a considerable national and local demand.

The average tourist prefers the San Cristóbal de las Casas-Palenque circuit, which does not include the visit to Toniná. Two functional aspects stand out in the observation units associated to its aesthetic configuration. First, the Colonial character and the tourist infrastructure of San Cristóbal de las Casas (OMT et al., 2009), which allow it to be constituted as a vector axis for connections with the main tourism attractions in the state, while Ocosingo functions as a passing-through city in this touristic circuit and its periphery is only marginally benefited by the multiplying effects of tourism (Barreto, 2007).

The average age of those interviewed is 34 years, without there being a significant difference between the two observation units (t=-0.25; p=0.79). However, the standard deviation of ±13.00 shows that the age composition is divided into two groups that point to touristic practices of inter-generational character, which agrees with the data about the composition of the groups studied that correspond to the presence of adults and children, and which could be associated to the social function of the trip (Haulot, 2002), linked mostly with family and friend groups. This agrees with the results; the family trip was the most important type with a significant statistical difference between the two cities (x2=18.72; p=0.001), being more relevant in Ocosingo than in San Cristóbal de las Casas. In both cities, tourism with friends is important.

Regarding income, there was no significant difference between the two observation units (t=0.50; p=0.61), but, when comparing the age and the economic income, a low positive correlation was found (r=0.36; p<0.001) between both variables that suggest that the older visitors had higher income. This allows recognizing two important groups among the tourists analyzed; on the one part, professionals stand out with 36.2 %, who would be those of highest income, and students with 31.7 %, associated to a younger population with lower income. This shows the existence of two market niches with different purchasing power (Kotler et al., 2004), although they converge in their travel interests profiled by their cultural level.

Although the higher travel motivation reported in both observation units is vacations, Fisher’s exact test showed a significant statistical difference in the visit because of family causes and the passing-through visitors (x2=11.10; p=0.02). In Ocosingo a higher proportion of visits to family was found, which is connected with a practice of nostalgia tourism with strong psychological connotations (Bringas and Barrera, 2007), while in San Cristóbal de las Casas the passing-through visit was greater, given its nodal character that allows spending the night and then moving to other points of interest. In the first case, food is an element that strengthens the identity and family discourse of the territory, while in the second it allows the marketing of Bola cheese throughout the tourism circuit, made possible by the portability of the product, which can be offered as a tourism souvenir (Estévez, 2008).

This influenced the period of permanence of the observation units, showing a significant difference (x2=13.75; p=0.008). The permanence period in San Cristóbal was longer than in Ocosingo, given the intermittent character generated by continuous tourism flows. Permanence is an aspect of significant importance for emblematic foods, since the basic necessities imply food consumption, with particular importance of those that have a direct association with the territory.

The average number of adult people and children per group was 3.17 and 2.04, respectively. The presence of children in travel groups is a good indicator that the tourist who travels to the study area does not perceive it as insecure, but rather, in accordance to Coronado (2008), the manifestation of social non-conformity in Chiapas constitutes part of the scenario that the tourist expects to find. In fact, the safety perceived by tourists on the highway (U de Mann-Whitney=1199.5; p=0.88) and in tourism sites (U de Mann-Whitney=1063.0; p=0.19) did not show significant statistical differences between both cities and, in general, was perceived as good. However, when asking the tourists whether they travelled at night, 95.9 % manifested that they did not, responding to the recommendations by local authorities.

This agrees with information provided by tourism operators, relative to the rating given to the touristic functionality of the roads. In general terms, safety has an acceptable image, while the high frequency of roadblocks constitutes a restrictive factor, which considerably affects the operations in the San Cristóbal de las Casas-Palenque tourism circuit. However, this has not entailed an obstacle for the touristic attraction since the visitors are aware of the climate that prevails in the zone and assume the risk as part of the experience of the journey (information obtained from the in-depth interviews).

The means for transportation most widely used in San Cristóbal de las Casas is public, while in Ocosingo it is private vehicles. In San Cristóbal de las Casas there is more influx of domestic tourists as well as from other states and international, which arrive by air or land, while in Ocosingo there is more domestic tourism and a high percentage of tourists from Chiapas itself. In addition, family tourism is more important in Ocosingo, so the use of private cars is more common. This is a defining factor about two different approximations to tourism mobility, one autonomous and another that depends on the offer for movement available, which also influences the patterns of purchase, portability and transport of local products (Estévez, 2008; Troncoso et al., 2011).

The study of the tourist profile in the observation units shows a traveler with special interest for sociocultural aspects, associated to the Maya culture and Zapatista history. These are Mexican tourists, middle-class, whose tourism practices are different from widespread tourism, including, to a lesser degree, foreigners with a similar configuration. This agrees with data contributed by Coronado (2008) with regard to the tourism market in Chiapas.

In general terms, the profile of the Mexican tourist (SECTUR, 2006) is similar to what was found in this study. In gender, 62 % were males, with an average age of 38 years; 64 % have university studies and they are mostly employees whose income varies between $6500 and $12 999 pesos. These are group visits with an important incidence of visits to family members and friends as the main motivation.

Derived from this, it is possible to infer that within this tourist profile there are opportunities for positioning local agrifood products such as the Bola cheese from Ocosingo, which is directly associated with schooling, purchasing power and the socio-affective ties between traveler and territory (Espeitx, 2008; Vendruscolo et al., 2008; Montanari and Staniscia, 2009; Mascarenhas and Gândara, 2010).

Valuation of tourism destinations in the region

According to the directory of the tourism office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, there are around 19 operators who offer different tourism circuits in Southeastern México. Among them, the tours offered per day are: i) Cañón del Sumidero and Chiapa de Corzo; ii) San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán; iii) Lagos de Montebello and Cascada el Chiflón; iv) Cascadas Agua Azul, Misol Ha and Palenque; and v) Archaeological zone of Toniná, Agua Azul Falls, Misol Ha and Palenque. Tours i, ii and iv are the ones most frequently requested by tourists (information obtained from in-depth interviews), and the places that were most frequently reported by the tourists interviewed (Figure 1).

Source: authors’ elaboration.

Figure 1 Places most frequently visited by tourists in Chiapas. 

The tourists interviewed in San Cristóbal de las Casas have visited more places than those in Ocosingo. A significant statistical difference was found between both cities for Palenque (x2=12.71; p=0.00), Misol Ha (x2=8.30; p=0.004), Chiapa de Corzo (x2=9.79; p=0.002) and Cañón del Sumidero (x2=4.75; p=0.03). For the other destinations there was no difference. This allows observing a disconnection between Ocosingo as producing zone of an emblematic cheese, which could play an important role as touristic marker of the territory with the regional touristic circuits, and reflecting upon the importance of the proximities and distances for the valuation of local resources as touristic capital (Garrod et al., 2006). This suggests evaluating the ineffectiveness of the Route of the Bola Cheese, in function of the low touristic rating of the territory (Zimmer y Grassmann, 1996), at the same time that this leads to rethinking the range of possibilities between the cheese and the different tourism spaces near its production site.

To understand the level of importance that Ocosingo has in the tourism circuits offered between San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque, 120 tourists were interviewed. The tour was done by 80.8 %; of these, 70.1 % made a stop in Ocosingo; 6.2 % of less than one hour; 23.5 % between one hour and two hours; and only 10.3 % more than two hours. Stops of less than two hours were made on the outskirts of the city, mostly for the purpose of finding food, but the Bola cheese is not clearly identified in the tourism offer. Only 49.5 % visited the archaeological zone of Toniná, reflecting Ocosingo as a passing-through city of scarce tourism importance.

In terms of the knowledge of local resources from Ocosingo, the archaeological zone of Toniná was the one of highest recognition. Only 24.3 % of those interviewed visited the center and 12.6 % visited the market. It should be mentioned that Ocosingo has various natural an archaeological resources that are dispersed and which lack tourism infrastructure, which confirms that the geographical position and the territory’s configuration are essential aspects of the valuation of the agrifood patrimony as a touristic resource (Requier-Desjardins, 2007). Also, it suggests that an important touristic resource, such as the archaeological zone of Toniná, doesn’t have great impact because it competes with resources of higher hierarchical level (the archaeological zone of Palenque, as well as Misol Ha and Agua Azul) to attract the attention of a tourist who is passing through and with time limitations and budget limitations; this territorial configuration has also influenced in the promotion of the Bola cheese, but which currently takes on great importance again, giving meaning to the local knowledge and flavors (Vendruscolo et al., 2008).

An important aspect was to understand the loyalty to the destination; 100 % of those interviewed manifested the wish to return to Chiapas and 98 % would recommend it as a tourism destination. With regard to Ocosingo, 62.3 % of those interviewed would return and 51.2 % would recommend it as tourism destination, especially those tourists who were interviewed in the archaeological zone of Toniná. The existence of a tourist loyal to the destination implies variations with regard to their dynamics of consumption, with the most experienced tourist being those who tend to consume products that reinforce their sensory experiences, as food and drink do (Estévez, 2008).

According the previous data, it is possible to state that the relationship between foods and tourism is constructed around a synergy between natural and cultural resources, social capital, infrastructure and market dynamics that determine the level of success of a development strategy based on tourism (Montanari and Staniscia, 2009). This is relevant since the dietary routes have been divulged as a strategy for revitalization of the Mexican countryside (Barrera, 2006), but in many cases these present common problems about territorial dispersion and lack of infrastructure (Thomé, 2008; Renard and Thomé, 2010), which opens the gap between base foods and tourism markets.

Knowledge of typical local products

Of the tourists interviewed, 45 % have knowledge of typical products from the region. Embroideries, textiles, coffee, amber handcrafts and cacao were the ones most often mentioned by tourists in San Cristóbal de las Casas, while cheese and honey were recognized by some of the interviewees in Ocosingo. Of the total interviewed, 75.2 % manifested being interested in understanding the process of cheese elaboration, some from curiosity and others to better understand the local culture and gastronomy. Although a good number of tourists recognize typical local products, of the total interviewed, 73.8 % do not purchase souvenirs from the region.

With regard to knowledge of the Bola cheese from Ocosingo, 60.6 % do not know about it and a significant statistical difference was found between the two cities (x2=27.59; p=0.00), with it being less well-known in San Cristóbal (76.7 %) than in Ocosingo (42.5 %); 73.3 % of them manifested wanting to know the product, mainly attracted by the name and in order to understand the local gastronomy. Out of 39.4 % who manifested knowing about the cheese, 77.4 % have consumed it and no statistical difference was found between the cities.

This shows the importance of tourism as a platform for exhibiting local foods, which, in turn, rests on the capacity to divulge the local agrifood culture through messages that reach clearly and efficiently differentiated market niches. Thus, the existence of new patterns of consumption and interests in travelling allow establishing the existence of links between foods and tourism, derived from the new meanings that the rural space acquires as a scenario for contemporary touristic leisure (Aguilar et al., 2003; Armesto and Gómez, 2004). In the following section, the knowledge and interest of tourists in the region about the modalities of tourism associated with foods is discussed.

Knowledge of agrifood touristic products and geographical indications of quality

The motivation over visiting territories that produce emblematic foods has a close relationship with the specificity of the terrain (material and symbolic), and a clearly differentiated productive system. Concerning the recognition of products with denomination of origin (DO), only 33.6 % recognizes them and of these, 89.5 % has consumed them. The products with DO most well-recognized by tourists were tequila and mezcal. Likewise, the level of knowledge about gastronomic or food routes in the region is low: 84.9 % do not know or do not remember any; out of the 15.1 % that do know about one, the most well-recognized are the Route of Wine and Cheese in Querétaro, the Tequila Route in Jalisco, and the Coffee Route in Tapachula; of these, 79.4 % has participated in one of them at least once in the past five years. There is a lack of knowledge about differentiated quality foods among the tourists interviewed, which entails one of the restrictive aspects for the development of an agrifood touristic offer.

When inquiring with tourists about the knowledge of some touristic routes in the region, 96.1 % have not heard of the Cacao Route in Chiapas; of the 3.9 % who do know about it, only 20 % have done it on their own, without participation of travel agencies. Regarding the Maya 62.5 % have some reference about it, and of these, 53.7% has visited some destinations in the route and a significant statistical difference was found (x2=8.49; p=0.004), with it being most frequently visited by tourists in Ocosingo (64.1 %); 19.6 % did it through a travel agency. Regarding the Route of the Bola Cheese from Ocosingo, since it is a project that was left at the design stage (Agudelo and Cesín, 2013), 96.7 % of the tourists have not heard about it. This shows that the strategy of routes has not permeated efficiently in the region; according to the appreciation of touristic operators, it is related to the fact that the routes exist only in name, but they do not have a social and institutional structure to implement and promote them. In another sense, it is appreciated that the mobility of the tourist in the region has a highly flexible nature, associated to an autonomous discovery of the territory, which in turn points to the pertinence of exploring other types of offers that require less structuring and greater diversified presence in the tourism circuit analyzed. In agreement with Hernández (2011), this demonstrates that not all territories respond effectively to the generalized construction of routes, and that their results vary in function of the nature of their resources, the actors and the tourists’ response.

For the case of the local agrifood fairs, 79.2 % of the tourists do not remember any, and the 20.8 % who know about them mentioned the Expochiapas and Expo-ogánicos Fairs in Tuxtla Gutiérrez; the Cheese Fair and Feria de la Candelaria in Ocosingo; of these, 91.5 % have participated at least once in the past five years. The fairs have greater acceptance among the interviewees, which signals that a specific and fun suggestion can represent a more efficient strategy for the valuation of the Bola cheese, according to the clear trend of hyper-fragmented tourism, adequate to the characteristics of the territory, which takes advantage of the existing touristic flows and strengthens the integral tourist offer, contributing a new identity element that can be incorporated by the human and social bodies (Muchnik, 2006).


Knowledge of the characteristics of the tourist and his/her preferences within the territory allows identifying the potentialities of the Bola cheese from Ocosingo, to take advantage of the flow of an important tourism circuit and to give it value. Within this context, it is possible to glimpse the potential that a local and emblematic product has, as material evidence of the intangible experience of the trip, of a mostly Mexican tourist, with cultural motivation to explore the local gastronomy.

Since the space where this cheese is produced is a territory with scarce touristic interest, its function is perceived as a genuine marker of the local production, and as an element of differentiation through touristic consumption. Given the portable character of the cheese, its consumption could take place outside its place of origin, promoting it and marketing it in the tourism interest centers within the San Cristóbal de las Casas-Palenque corridor.

The loyalty of tourists for the destination is a fundamental element to propose strategies of valuation directed towards the promotion of local products. However, the construction of agrifood routes seems not to work in all the territories, making it imperative to think of other strategies, more in accordance to the dynamics of touristic spaces.

The opportunity to set out strategies for the valuation of cheese is related to the exploitation of the regional touristic influx, which implies processes of divulgation, communication and reinterpretation of the agrifood patrimony within the regional tourism offer.

This study highlights the fact that the construction of the Bola cheese from Ocosingo as a tourism resource is defined by the different connections between travelers and food, manifested at the cultural, socio-economic, spatial and emotional level, all of them materialized in the set of social practices that will influence the promotion of the whole territory, including the commercial exchanges that the indigenous population carries out, which, although lacking a direct relationship with the production of cheeses in Ocosingo, and which is also not a food that is part of the dietary culture, the touristic strengthening through an emblematic product can detonate the commercial dynamics of handcrafts and other local products.

Regarding the importance of the role of the cheese as an identity product and potential tourism marker of the territory, potentialities can be observed in the study performed, although in outlying spaces like Ocosingo it is difficult to find the link between a lattice of natural and cultural resources, converging with the dietary patrimony. A key aspect is that both the archaeological zone of Toniná and the Bola cheese from Ocosingo cannot compete with the touristic destinations of the San Cristóbal de las Casas-Palenque corridor, although in particular for the case of the Bola cheese, the isolation of the territory has contributed, in part, to the conservation of the knowhow and which, if it were found in another territory, could probably lose its specificity because of a greater industrialization, with all its implications, adopted to satisfy the growing demand for the product.


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Received: January 2015; Accepted: May 2015

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