Summary: Re-Imagining Mexico Ecotourism Conference 2000 – Planeta.com

Poster

From the archives (2000):
In order to facilitate the networking of professionals working to improve ecotourism, Planeta.com hosted the Re-Imagining Ecotourism in the Americas Conference (2000-2001). The Reimagining Mexico Ecotourism Conference took place online the Internet from September 4-8, 2000.

Con el fin de facilitar la creación de redes de profesionales que trabajan para mejorar el ecoturismo, Planeta.com organizó la Conferencia Re-Imagining Ecotourism in the Americas (2000-2001). La Conferencia de Ecoturismo de Reimagining Mexico tuvo lugar en línea en Internet del 4 al 8 de septiembre de 2000.

During the week of September 4-8, 2000, more than 100 people registered for this event. Participants discussed the status of ecotourism in Mexico, the perception of this niche in the domestic and international arenas and — most importantly — specific proposals to make improvements. More than 90 messages were posted and highlights have been edited for this summary.

What was accomplished

1) We held this conference!

I don’t make this point lightly. While it was an exhausting week, it was a great pleasure for Planeta.com to host such an event and participants were able to take part even though they live great distances from each other. Participants registered from the following countries: Canada, England, Guatemala, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand and the United States. Mexico was represented by participants living in Durango, Mexico City, Quintana Roo and the Yucatan. And, not surprisingly, there was a good deal of interaction with Mexicans living abroad.

2) First-hand information was shared.

Mexican travel operators — from agencies, hotels and the national ecotourism association — took the opportunity to discuss the development of ecotourism in their country. Journalists, travel agents and students from other countries provided their own experiences and views on how Mexican tourism is viewed from abroad.

Future Plans

Planeta.com will host additional online conferences and maintain the Mexican tourism mailing lists via the Red Mexicana de Ecoturismo. Businesses and foundations interested in supporting this work should contact Ron Mader.

About this Summary

This is a working draft. The following summary is not meant to be a complete transcript, but a selection of comments and observations made by the participants. We highlight the specific examples instead of messages that were personal or conceptual in nature. Minor errors in spelling and grammar have been corrected to make this summary more readable.

This is also a very long document by Planeta.com standards. If you are interested in the topic, the best advice is to print the text.

This report includes highlights from the Status Reports, Best Case Examples, Proposals. Questions asked during the event are included in an appendix.

Comments about this summary can be posted to our ongoing Mexico ecotourism discussion list or sent via private email to Ron Mader.

Ron Mader, Webhost
Planeta.com

Status Reports

Status Report by Ron Mader

Ecotourism is a means by which the tourism sector can actively support environmental conservation and local development. As such, it requires participation from various sectors, including tourism businesses, conservation groups, academics, policy-makers and the media.

“No one will visit a park if they don’t know where to go,” I told the audience at the Coloquio Internacional sobre Ecoturismo en Areas Naturales Protegidas de Centroamerica y Mexico in 1996. (See http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/1096/1096playa.html) Information is needed by travelers and travel agents alike. So far, information about Mexico’s rich diversity of natural tourism attractions has been hard to find.

Take a look at any major U.S. or Canadian bookstore. While Mexican tourism guidebooks are plentiful, very few address environmental destinations or attractions.

I am the author of one of the few eco travel guidebooks — Mexico: Adventures in Nature — but frankly, we need to see more titles, more videos, more magazines, presentations and workshops. And, I would predict that we will see a major change in the next five years.

Why?

Because ecotourism is on the rise in Mexico. Communities and businesses alike are developing ecotourism programs. I would argue that we are seeing more and more environmental awareness both in Mexico and in the international sphere. Magazines, documentaries and news reporting cover environmental issues with greater depth than ever before. Case in point is the summer issue of Amicus Journal — http://www.nrdc.org/amicus/f-ami.htm — titled “Mexico Rising.”

If ecotourism depends on support and participation from various sectors, then so does this conference. I have invited the best of the best. Participating in this conference are tourism and environmental leaders, journalists and authors, not to mention brilliant thinkers in the academic realm.

There is still time to register for the conference, so if you know of others who should take part, please forward the information to them as soon as possible.

Status Report by Joe Cummings

Mexico in many ways has a very good environmental record, especially in relation to other so-called ‘medium development’ countries (to borrow the United National Human Development Program term).

My impression is that on a grass roots level, Mexicans have a higher degree of environmental awareness than the citizens of many other countries I’ve done travel research in. My observations also suggest that the government is quicker to confer protection to fragile or ecologically valuable areas than most countries, including the United States.

Where Mexico sometimes falls down is in the enforcement of such nominal protections. To some degree this represents a lack of political will or follow-through, but to a large degree I think it’s simply lack of budget. In the debate about whether political progress can come before economic progress, I tend to fall on the side that claims economic progress is the engine that drives conservation. I’ve seen plenty of examples to support this belief over the 2+ decades I’ve been traveling in the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia, and have seen virtually no examples to the contrary.

It’s not just the local, state and federal governments that need budgets for conservation and preservation. People in the private sector need to find an economic reason to conserve and preserve, and ecotourism of course is one of the economic activities that could drive up the perceived value of natural areas in Mexico.

Individual ecotouristic enterprises can gather greater strength by forming professional organizations that take unilateral action to preserve the environment. One example of this kind of activity that I’m familiar with is in the Cabo San Lucas area where local diving operations meet periodically for clean-up dives in the bays of the Cape Region.

Likewise a number of local residents not directly dependent on tourism — but realizing that most local income ultimately derives from tourism — banded together to petition the city government to designate certain beach areas as an urban park where no development of any kind was allowed. This far-sighted approach took hold quite a few years ago and these preserved beaches have become the pride of CSL and a powerful way to promote the destination as a place to get away from high-rise beach towers, etc.

There are numerous other examples of such cooperative efforts in Baja California Sur. On the other hand, I would like to see more of that kind of thing in Chihuahua, Sonora, and Sinaloa, three states with incomparable tourism potential but a noticeable lack of local cooperation. I understand that in the Sierra Tarahumara there are some wonderful projects of this nature, and I hope to investigate these in 2001.

Like Walter, I believe tourism, whether eco- or otherwise, can only do so much. Some responsibility must be carried by the local/state/federal governments, local communities and the visitors themselves.

Status Report by Kenneth Johnson

Amtave — http://www.amtave.org — is an association that was formed more than six years ago. Its members are the main companies in adventure tourism and ecotourism in Mexico. The objectives of the association are obviously to develop the different activities done and the ones not done yet and that have very good potential taking care of our natural resources and incorporating the local communities.

Amtave invites operators to join our group and to work together to develop this activity in Mexico as it should follow environmental guidelines and incorporate local communities.

We want also to work with Sectur and other government agencies to coordinate standards, code of ethics, regulations and training. The idea is to coordinate efforts to reach the quality and development of ecotourism in Mexico.

Status Report by Marlene Ehrenberg
Para ser honestos poca gente sabe lo que realmente es. La palabra ECO, esta siendo utilizada de una manera espantosa, ecotaxis, ecocines, se esta protegiendo la “ecologia”! enves del medio ambiente o la naturaleza. Ahora resulta que los campos de golf son ecologicos porque son verdes, que horror, y asi barbaridad y media.

Xcaret, un parque de diversion que presume de eco arqueologico, cuando se ha dedicado a dinamitar el cause del rio subterraneo y crear playones artificiales, tener a los delfines con jornadas de trabajo extremas, seguro estan bien alimentados,¿ pero quien controla cuantas veces tienen que reemplazarlos?

En Veracruz se creo un boom, sobre todo con las compaÀias de descenso de rio.

Jalcomulco, un tranquilo poblado donde vivian del mango y el cacahuate principalmente, uno que otro restaurante donde el platillo atractivo es la acamaya.

Asi que aunque las primeras compaÀias, la mayoria miembros de AMTAVE — http://www.amtave.org — segun los estatutos, su preocupacion era promover el turismo de aventura, con hospedaje de bajo impacto y empleando gente de la localidad. La falta de autoridad competente, normas y ante todo planeacion, causaron el efecto contrario, al rebasar la capacidad de carga.

Chihuahua con su festival de la sierra Tarahumara y San Luis Potosi igualmente han podido, no con tanta espectacularidad como Veracruz, promover el ecoturismo, bajo el paraguas demasiado amplio de turismo alternativo. Y con deficiencias terribles en la organizacion.

Chiapas ha sufrido un loquisimo destino de promocion, lo aventurero que puede ser el turismo “revolucionario” y de aventura, enardecio los animos de mucho jovenes Italianos en especial, ademas de otros europeos, curiosamente no a los mexicanos. Estos son solo algunos ejemplos relacionados con el fenomeno del ecoturismo mal entendido.

Status Report by Fernando Garcia Aguinaco

In my research trips I have found very interesting projects and efforts that respect the environment and benefit the local people and culture.

I had found not enough information for these places published in the related media or even in the tourist information offices.

Finding this places is not easy. Sometimes that’s an important part of their charm. But I think that travelers need to know more of these kind of places. Visitors really appreciate them.

As part of the media, I am concerned with how publishing information about these places can be helpful to promote these projects. But we have to be aware that too much visitors to these projects could damage the environment and spoil local communities.

Status Report by Antonio Suárez

Balam is group working on community base tourism in Mexico, our group is mainly focused to local building capacity throught trainning of ejidos and comunidades, in the last year we have developed recreational GIS and light affordable infraestructure for this groups.

Balam teaches an average of 15 workshops a year, ranging from trail building to internal organization.

Status Report by Emilio Kifuri

There has to be some middle ground here with a combination of private and community tourism project developments. Kurt Kutay, the director of a leading adventure operator wrote that he was very impressed with the Ruta de Sonora and that he is trying to find ways to make it financially viable for his company to operate there. Just one or two companies, on the level of Wildland Adventures, operating in an area and they can support several community projects. These community projects must be designed with the potential to allow travel companies the opportunity to make a profit.

Why must ecotourism demand that community projects be 100% owned by the community? Would a community prefer to have 100% of very little or 51% of some viable profits? Joe Cummings wrote that economic progress is the engine that drives conservation and that people in the private sector need to find an economic reason to conserve and preserve. Ecotourism must offer the profit potential that other business investments offer or else it is not a business but rather a bad investment. Profit is not a dirty concept that is going to spoil ecotourism.

In my own business, in the Copper Canyon area, we have provided interest free loans to local resident families for the construction of small lodges. I initially wanted to work with local communities but it soon became too difficult to agree on anything. This is a win win situation for both us and the families since we have exclusive use of the lodges and we pay well for upscale service. We have trained local residents to the level of licensed naturalist guides and have several guides in training. We have just made a commitment to build 5 water wells in Indian communities away from tourist destinations and will probably not stop building new wells after those are done. This water well project will have a direct impact. We donate annual trips to the children’s hospital and also monetary donations to several NGO’s. We gladly pay user or entrance fees to several ejidos and native families. We pay top salaries to all involved including employees in our office. For the last 6 years, our donations have been in the 10’s of thousands of dollars each year. But our best accomplishment was to expose the World Bank’s Forestry Development Project (clear cutting pines and oaks) in a special environmental television report that aired on over 50 stations covering every major market. The World Bank received several thousand letters directly from this report and soon after canceled the project. This was expensive and time consuming to pull off but the unique opportunity presented itself and we jumped on it.

I am not used to bragging about my accomplishments except of course to every new potential client. Is there anything wrong with putting your profit where your mouth is? I hope not.

Status Report by Verena Gerber

I own a little ecological hotel called Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim, at the border of the Special Biological Reserve of Celestún, Yucatan, Mexico.

Our main problems are 1.- marqueting (how does one let the world know that there is a little spot very similar to paradise in Celestún? Where is the market? What is the profile of the ecotourist? Where is he to be found?) – if we do not answer this questions quick, as Ron says, we are going to be an ex-ecotouristic project. 2.- Autorities – allways absent. The reserve has no leadership, the town does what seems best for it, developers and turisteros also – no rules, no support, no nothing. Lately, some developers bought 500 ha to the south of our resort – they wanted to build a golf course – in reserve! – I hope they do not get the permission.

I agree on Emilio Kifuri’s statement that ecotourism can not be cheap if you effectively commit to preservation & conservation. Funds and subsidios are not easy to get for this activity. We have talked to the people of PRODEFOR, but alas! coconut is neither a tree nor a plant ( we have replanted 70 ha – 20,000 malayan dwarf coconut trees) – hence, no money. I agree with Walter Bishop’s “mounstousness of the problem of educating the comunity” (tell us!), also on Carlos Ibarra’s comment of how difficult it is to help or try to help the community (here in Celestún it is almost impossible). I agree on Joe Cummings idea of “keep it small” (unfortunately, if a place is successful, developers with the blessings of the government will overrun it – see Playa del Carmen).

Best Cases

Best Case Examples by Ron Mader

After writing about this topic for the past fives years, particularly in my guidebook Mexico: Adventures in Nature, I do have some personal favorites. This is not a complete list by any means (that’s why I wrote a book), but it should serve as a good intro, particularly for those who aren’t aware of the diversity of quality tourism destinations and attractions in this country.

Baja California – Eco Mundo
Eco Mundo is a combination campground/environmental education center on the Sea of Cortes. Joe Cummings first alerted me to this project which is wonderful. Located south of Mulege, the education center is easily spotted thanks to its a straw bale adobe palapa run by Roy Mahoff

Durango – Mapimi Biosphere Reserve
While this is a hiker and cactus lover’s paradise, there is no visitor’s center and there are no established hiking trails. Tours are offered by Pantera Excursions — http://www.aventurapantera.com.mx — and Contraste Laguna-Desertica — http://www.contrastelaguna.com.mx — which offers star gazing and an observatory in built in the reserve.

Mexico City – Ajusco Mountains
The Ajusco mountains are just south of Mexico City. San Nicolas Park is the first of several new community-owned parks in the mountains. Details about the park are online its own website: http://www.parquesannicolas.com.mx

Tamaulipas – El Cielo Biosphere Reserve
Mexico’s northernmost cloud forest lies about five hours from the U.S.-Mexico border. South of Ciudad Victoria, the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve is located in the Sierra Madre Oriental. Scott Walker wrote an online “practical guide” for those wishing to visit the reserve: http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/tamaulipas/cieloguide.html

Yucatan – Celestún Biosphere Reserve
The American flamingo is the reserve’s main attraction. One of the most “eco” hotels in Mexico is Xixim, Eco Paraiso — http://www.mexonline.com/eco-paraiso.htm

Best Case Examples by Walter Bishop

a) In the Copper Canyon, the Otachique hostel on the road from Cajurichic to Uruachic is working they had a slow start and faced many sacrifices to get to the point they are.

b) In the Bay of Magdalena the boat captains that take you in the pangas to watch the whales have improved their service dramatically. They speak English, they give more less good information about the whales, they all have life vests for all the tourist and they are not to expensive in comparison to other whale watching areas.

c) In the Sierra of San Francisco between San Ignacio and Guerrero negro these wrangler guides take you by foot or mule ride to see some of the most amazing Indian paintings in the world. They have been declared humanity’s patrimony. Anyway these guys have taken capacitation in ecotourism and try to enforce it, some of them speak English, they do not let you get off the trail, they know their business of conducting a burro train which is believe me very demanding, and they do not let you throw any thing to the ground, take all the garbage out ( which is not a tradition in Mexico) etc., etc. but it has also taken them years to get there.

Best Case Examples by Kurt Kutay

La Ruta de Sonora Ecotourism Association’s Executive Director, Isabel Granillo and Manager, David Anderson, took me on a FAM last Spring from Nogales through Caborca, to the Gulf of California, and then through the incredible Pinacate Biosphere Reserve. Many of my digital images are on their website, which by the way is very professional. They have had some effective assistance with their marketing.

As a participant I was so impressed with the content of interpretation through local specialists who are part of the Ruta program. Furthermore, this is truly a grassroots operation. Isabel and David direct marketing, sales and program development from their Ajo, AZ office, and then coordinate regional representatives at each location along the route who actually handle on site tour operations within local communities.

Best Case Examples by Antonio Suárez

I believe Techos de Mexico is doing something necessary that no one else is doing by using tourism to improve local houses and create small economies close to one of the mecas of traditional tourism, Puerto Vallarta, more people with samll properties is doing the same, this effort can transform tourism. Web: http://www.laneta.apc.org/techos.

Best Case Examples by Fernando Garcia Aguinaco

Hablando de ejemplos. Como visitante, estos fueron sitios a los que me gustaria regresar: Museos Comunitarios de Oaxaca, A.C. Cuentan con 18 museos comunitarios en Oaxaca. Aunque modestos, introducen al visitante a conocer la comunidad. Luego uno puede participar y aprender de las actividades cotidianas, probar sus alimentos y ver como viven.

Proyecto Ecoturistico de la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, tambien me parecio un proyecto con excursiones interesantes y que, como los Museos Comunitarios, permiten conocer una faceta y lugares un tanto desconocidos y muy ricos de Oaxaca. http://www.sierranorte.org.mx

Cuatrocienegas, Coahuila. No solo por la riqueza y valor del lugar; la intencion de proteger el area me parecio adecuada. http://www.utexas.edu/depts/tnhc/.www/fish/dfc/cuatroc/

Coincido con Ron en que Ecomundo en Mulege es un proyecto al que hay que tenerle puesto el ojo. Ofrece buenas excursiones, ideales para quien gusta del kayac, e interesantes son sus formas de aprovechamiento de la energia. Una biblioteca aporta informacion al visitante. Habra que volver a conocer su jardin botanico. Al escribir Ecomundo en Yahoo o Altavista aparecen diversos sitios en la red al respecto.

Kuyima, para observar ballena gris y practicar otras actividades en la Laguna de San Ignacio en Baja California Sur.

Considero que hay que voltear a nuestro vecino un tanto desconocido: Belice. Donde para el interesado en tener contacto con mayas y garifunas, puede visitar las villas que se ubican dentro del programa de Toledo Ecotourism Association, ganadores en 1997 del premio “To Do” en la categoria “Turismo Socialmente Responsable”. Tel: +501+7+22119.

Rio Bravo Conservation Area: Representa el 4% de territorio BeliceÀo. Programme for Belize lleva a cabo varios proyectos de desarrollo sustentable. Internet: http://www.pfbelize.org/

Considero que un acierto de estos lugares, es que de alguna manera se han dado a conocer y ofrecen informacion sobre sus caracteristicas, actividades y planes.

Best Case Examples by Marlene Ehrenberg

Ahora bien existen casos ejemplares, donde se practica un ecoturismo correcto.

Desde hace algun tiempo en la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca una serie de poblados se unieron, con una asesoria adecuada y manejan sus areas naturales con todo tipo de actividades, desde las mas suaves, como observacion de flora y fauna, a las mas activas como bici de montaÀa. Ixtlan de Juárez siendo de formacion mas reciente, contando con hospedaje de todo tipo y transportacion especial turistica.

Otro magnifico ejemplo es Las CaÀadas en Huatusco, Veracruz — http://www.edg.net.mx/empresas/niebla/. Una joven pareja, cuenta con una reserva natural privada, maneja un maximo de 12 personas, tiene su propia hortaliza organica, dado cursos a los campesinos sobre este tema, hacen su propio queso, tienen un mariposario y paseos inolvidables por el bosque con helechos arboresentes.

O al otro extremo del pais, en la peninsula de Yucatan, el hotelito, Ecoparaiso Xixim — http://www.mexonline.com/eco-paraiso.htm — en este caso el termino esta bien aplicado, los 15 bungalitos estan planeados con una serie de tecnicas de energia limpia, los desechos son igualmente tratados organicamente. No se usan insecticidas toxicos , ni fertilizantes. Se plantaron varias hectareas de palma de coco malayo, despues de la plaga del amarillamiento letal, que mato todos los cocoteros hace mas de 5 aÀos.

Proposals

Proposals by David Barkin

It would be important to develop a program of social tourism. Perhaps AMTAVE might be the mechanism to initiate this effort.

Proposals by Kenneth Johnson

Our proposal for making better networks is first by inviting all the companies that operate ecotours to join Amtave, second to contact universities and NGOs to coordinate with research and protection projects and third to network with biking, hiking, kayak and birdwatching clubs.

Proposals by Ron Mader

As a specific proposal for this conference, I would like to offer Planeta.com’s continued support for networking, communication and information sharing in the field of Mexican ecotourism. The means of networking will be conducted via the Internet and via small workshops.

Proposals by Marlene Ehrenberg Enriquez
Crear La Casa del Ecoturismo en el D.F. con total apoyo de SECTUR D.F.

La propuesta de la campaÀa de Mariposa de Agua (vea http://www.planeta.com/planeta/99/0699agua.html), para fomentar un turismo interactivo y ayudar a cuidar nuestros recursos no renovables, como el agua, en el espiritu del ecoturismo mas puro, ha tenido mucha resistencia en despegar, en estos momentos se encuentra un “spot” en la exposicion “Viva el Agua” en el Papalote Museo del NiÀo.

Para lograr un avance importante, seria reestructurar primero la Sectur Federal, haciendo contratos formales de 6 aÀos con los directivos que sean licenciados en turismo o tengan experiencia de al menos 10 aÀos en turismo, con el compromiso de analizar cada 2 aÀos las propuestas aprobadas en consenso de un plan maestro de pais, alcabo de los 6 aÀos darle continuidad, para que se siga avanzando con los nuevos responsables o preferentemente con los mismos que lo estan desempeÀando correctamente.

En la Sectur crear una direccion exclusiva para turismo ecologico y de aventura, nada que ver con marinas, o pesca deportiva de alta mar, ni campos de golf, ni cinegetico.

Dar cursos, seminarios y conferencias constantemente de actualizacion al personal de estas dependencias y otras, Sep, Semarnap, Ini, Ina, Petroleos, preferentemente a todas las secretarias, al igual los directivos de turismo en los estados y delegaciones en el extranjero.

Tener una participacion en las reuniones semestrales de los titulares de turismo de los estados. Pero aun mas importante PERMEAR a todos los niveles, especialmente las areas de esa dependencias que manejen productos nuevos, de turismo alternativo, ecologico, aventura, rural, sustentable, etnico, fotosafari, magico y mistico.

Planeta

Reimagining Mexico Ecotourism Conference (2000)

Responsible Travel and Ecotourism in Mexico

Mexico: Adventures in Nature

Colibri Ecotourism Award

México

Exploring Ecotourism