The following are rough notes from
an August 1995 presentatio at the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
conference, held in Austin,
I publish the Planeta newsletter. I'm not bothered by the fact
that my English language publication has a title in Spanglish. Living
in the borderlands, Spanglish is common. Plus, living in Mexico
City from 1992-1993, I became accustomed to hybrid titles like El
Bujo Taquieria y I Can't Believe It's Yogurt!
Nor do I mind challenging readers who either a policy journal
or a tourism cheerleader. Planeta.com
covers both environmental news as well as tourism. Too often we
leave the rainforests and the rivers in the hands of "policy specialists"
instead of people who get out into and enjoy nature.
Carol Cespedes has asked me to briefly describe and define ecotourism.
Perhaps it is possible to rate tourism destinations. I'd also suggest
defining the various groups of eco travelers. The point here is
to improve our environment, and that requires a dynamic form of
education and communication.
Shores wrote an article
published in the February 1995 issue of Planeta that offered
a ratings systems for ecotourism.
Level 0 or the entry level of ecotourism requires that the travelers
be exposed to or made aware of the fragility of the ecosystems they
have come to enjoy. This is the very lowest "awareness" threshold.
Incidental nature travel would usually qualify at this level.
Level 1 ecotourism requires that a net positive flow of monetary
support occur between the traveling ecotourist and the ecosystems
visited. Financial earmarks, whether airport departure taxes or designations
of a portion of land travel costs, would qualify at this level.
Level 2 requires that the ecotourist engage in a personal way
in supporting the environment. Some ecotourists plant trees, others
participate in litter cleanups.
Level 3 requires certifying that the specific tour system is benign
to the environment. The system should include the international air
travel as well as on-site transport and accommodation. Level 3 requires
demonstrating that the net effect of the traveler's presence is positive
or at least neutral.
Level 4 requires demonstrating that the net effect of the travelers
is positive. On-site efforts use appropriate technology, low energy
consumption, recycling, organic agriculture, sustainable harvesting
methods, and the travelers make a personal contribution to ecosystem
restoration. These balance less environmentally benign aspects of
the larger travel system that might involve air travel, stays in luxury
hotels, and excessive water or energy consumption.
A perfect Level 5 would be a trip where the entire system was
operating in an environmentally sound way. The trip would not be advertised
in non-recyclable magazines, or deluge households with third-class
mail solicitations. Transportation must be environmentally benign.
Heating and air- conditioning of accommodations would be solar-based
and low-impact. Foods and souvenirs must be produced in sustainable
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
Ecotourism is a lot like etiquette. In a way, most of our talk is
about what we should be doing instead of what we are doing.
Ecotourism or nature-based travel or eco tours are a response
both from committed individuals as well as a profit-hungry tourism
industry. In Mexico you have green jet skis. Is this a form of ecotourism?
Not one that I would promote.
Mexico is jumping onto the hottest growing segment of the world
tourism market -- ecotourism. The options are limitless, but shouldn't
be confused with short-term ploys to make a quick peso. If you want
to see the future of Mexican ecotourism, look further south.
Costa Rica's major income comes not from industry or agriculture
but from nature-based tourism and ecotourism. Apparently, tourists
are no longer content to lie on sun-soaked beaches and meditate
to the sound of crashing waves and Michael Jackson tunes, especially
when native birds sing their choruses in the nearby forests. Eco
travelers don't expect air-conditioned suites; they want to immerse
themselves in the adventure of getting to know a particular place.
But if we interpret ecotourism not just nature-based tourism,
but as tourism that assists in the conservation of natural resources,
its usefulness expands. Its profitability can assist local projects
and help explain scientific concepts such as biodiversity. Mexico,
for example, is known as a mega-diversity country. Only Colombia,
Peru, Brazil and Indonesia have a greater number of species.
Mexican tour operators, long accustomed to heralding megaprojects
like Acapulco and Cancun, now are discovering profit potential in
Mexico's lush natural resources -- the Sea of Cortez, the dunes
of Cuatro Cienegas and the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve.
Previous tourism campaigns promoted images of Mexico that were
selected because they appeared like European or U.S. cities. Now
they are promoting destinations that resemble no other place on
Before last year, it was virtually impossible to get a map of
Mexico's national parks and biosphere reserves. Previously, these
places were charted only in official papers and scientific literature.
Unlike other Latin American countries, Mexico paid only scholarly
attention to its natural resources. This is changing.
Last year, Mexico's Tourism Secretariat (SECTUR) and Mexico's
Environment Secretariat (SEDESOL, now SEMARNAP), collaborated on
a color map of these areas. The campaign slogan: "ŐDejate conquistar
por nuestros Parques Nacionales!" (Let our national parks win you
over!) is creative. Meanwhile, state and foreign offices need to
be informed of this option.
Recently, I paid a trip to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. I stopped at
the city tourism office and asked what natural attractions were
to be found. I was told I couldn't find local parks or local artesenia
for that matter - "We are an industrialized state," said the indignant
Nuevo Leon does have many splendid natural resources - from the
Cumbres de Monterrey to Chapinque, a city park. Ecotourism is slowly
developing here. Nearby you can find cloud forests, wetlands and
the Chihuahuan Desert. As travelers show interest, no doubt the
tourism officials will catch up to them.
In Quintana Roo, SECTUR promotes the low-impact, rustic tourism
in the Sian Ka'an and Yum Balam biosphere reserves, just two hours
away from Cancun. Tourism can promote not only the guardianship
of the reserves, but scientific investigations and environmental
While Mexico develops its natural attractions, we should all be
aware of the problems inherent in promoting eco trips. Are the local
gems ready for increased traffic? You won't win a trip to the El
Cielo cloud forest in the state of Tamaulipas on a game show. And
maybe that's a good thing.
Countries with increased ecotourism such as Costa Rica and Ecuador
have upped the entrance prices to the parks and reserves, often
leaving local travelers unable to afford the journey. There are
other problems. Do we all need to climb up the Mesoamerican pyramids?
What luxuries will we insist on bringing to the rainforests? Golf
courses? It's being proposed in Monteverde.