By Shoma Ghosh
I’m not going to lie- hiking the Camino de Santiago is exhausting. There are times when it feels impossible to move on without food or water. And of course, many Spanish entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this and opened various restaurants and cafes along the Camino. As a student in the Pamplin College of Business, I realized that these ventures are essentially guaranteed profits for at least five months of the year because after all, there is only so long a perregrino can go without sustenance.
As an economics major, I have learned that certain products have what is called inelastic demand. This basically means that consumers will always pay for this product, regardless of a price change. So if the price goes up, consumers will still pay because the product itself is a necessity.
Such is the case on the Camino. Food and water are a necessity. At times I have found myself incapable of progress without the prospect of my huevos fritos y tocino (eggs and bacon). And obviously, the rest areas along the Camino recognize this, and must realize that their product and service are fortunate enough to face inelastic demand. These businesses have the opportunity to raise their prices to whatever cost, and still entertain the idea of profit. There are times on the Camino there when I would pay up to 20 Euro for even a tiny meal. But still, these organizations keep incredibly low prices. This morning for example, I had two eggs sunny side up, four long strips of bacon and three slices of bread.. for two Euro. Like I said, I would have been willing to pay much much more, but the restaurant still kept all meals within an affordable price range. These cafes understand that the majority of their consumers are pilgrims and realize that we are desperate for food. They realize that their business may be the only business we see for many kilometers, and yet they still have low prices.
This is one aspect of the Camino that amazes me. These organizations have multiple opportunities to maximize profits because of the demand of their products, and yet they continue to practice ethical (if not generous) business behavior. If anything, I think that these businesses practice in the spirit of the Camino. They understand that the Camino is not a business venture. They do not exploit the opportunities given to them. The Camino is not meant for profit, but instead is an experience for the pilgrim themselves, and the businesses along the way still respect that. I think that this shows that the Camino impacts all, not just those who travel it.
Photo – Shoma hikes into a village with Tom.