Does Eco Tourism really help communities? A perspective from Mexico
July 29, 2011
Tourism is the largest industry in the world and as such has the power to greatly benefit communities and elevate people’s standards of living. I had an opportunity to ask Enrique Valdes Garcia, who is the Cultural and Sustainable Tourism Director at Maya Land Lodges, which has been family owned and operated since 1921.
Its founder, Fernando Barbachano Peon, is credited as the nation’s first tourism industry pioneer that helped to introduce many travelers to the glories of the Yucatan and the magic of the Mayan culture. The properties have also been verified by the Rainforest Alliance.
In this article, Mr. Garcia shares with me some wonderful examples of how sustainable tourism operations at Maya Land Lodges help the surrounding communities.
Describe the social, environmental and/or economic circumstances of the communities that you serve that led the company to pursue sustainable tourism as a travel product.
Our social environment is composed of Mayan communities that are descendants of the original settlers and integrated into the economy of the region through the agriculture, tourism, handcraft and cattle industries. The village culture is represented by the Mayan heritage and influenced by the Spanish colonial history as evidenced by the distinctive festivals held in all the local communities of the Chichen Itza area of the Yucatan. We live in a rich cultural and archaeological environment. As an example of the economic circumstances of these communities, many families in the area make a living through the development of wood carved handcrafts. The villagers of Yaxunah use ancient methods as depicted in the video.
Describe how staying at a Maya Land Lodge directly benefits local communities.
Our properties at Chichen Itza are run in cooperation with our local communities so that we can help make an investment in our future generations. The Lodges help improve the standard of living by providing educational opportunities. For example, in 2009, a book collection campaign was sponsored and managed by our company to benefit the rural library of the village of Yaxunah. These children also have been provided access to the Internet and use of other technologies, which would not have been possible without our campaigns.
Please provide specific examples of how the company helps to preserve the local heritage and/or protect wildlife.
As the properties are located in the archaeological and geographical complex of Chichen Itza, there is a permanent agreement in place with specific responsibilities assigned by the National Institute of Anthropology and History regarding the preservation and care of all Chichen Itza monuments. The Lodge promotes responsible tourism practices to all its visitors when they explore and visit the archaeological site of Chichen Itza and other natural areas.
Describe the most surprising (or perhaps misunderstood) facet of sustainable tourism.
I think most people are surprised by how the choice to stay at sustainable tourism facilities helps to minimize poverty in the area. Also, given that the community is involved in almost every facet of the tourism operation, it helps community investment in the long term. The cycle of active involvement in the process allows both tourism operators and communities to greatly benefit and also face challenges together.
Describe an example of how a customer changed his or her view of a sustainable vacation as a result of staying at a Maya Land Lodge.
At our resorts, customers really appreciate and experience the past and present Mayan culture, learn from our traditions and participate in cooking, language, typical dance and traditional medicine classes and lectures. Also, our customers can join our reforestation campaign by planting a native tree on our grounds. Through our colorful and sustainable vacation options, customers are given the opportunity to positively interact with emotions evoked by nature and ancient teachings, which ultimately stay in their memories forever.