True Meaning of Sustainable Tourism – A Case Study

Hacienda Tres Rios

What is Ecotourism?

In a recent post, I discussed the popularity of the terms “sustainable tourism” and “ecotourism” and how they have expertly infiltrated travel marketing. I went on to lament the fact that many of these properties and services are eco-travel imposters, thus watering down the meaning for the true good actors in the green tourism revolution.

It was with this cautious skepticism that I accepted the kind invitation of the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort in the Riviera Maya, Mexico to visit for a long weekend. Part of the focus of the trip, which also included several other travel bloggers and writers, was to witness first hand the resort’s commitment to sustainable tourism.

Lest you think this is going to be a press release in post form, it isn’t. While it would be easy to do, I am not going to describe the numerous ways in which the resort saves energy, reuses water and in general leaves a very light ecological footprint. No, I am not going there because, frankly, it wouldn’t mean a lot for me to regurgitate some facts and figures. Rather, I want to explore the spirit in which the resort fosters their unusual commitment to sustainability.

Any resort with the inclination and budget to do so can be a sustainable property. What makes them eco-friendly are the practices utilized in the construction and ongoing operation of the hotel. What cannot be easily replicated, is the ATTITUDE that sustainable travel is important.

Rather than shout it from the rooftops, the Hacienda Tres Rios staff merely go through their daily professional lives practicing what they preach. It’s a simple concept, but one that is remarkably hard to find. From chatting with kitchen staff about how food waste is handled to being gently reminded that only biodegradable suntan lotions were allowed in the cenotes, the property is in every way what responsible travel is all about.

Tres Rios Nusery
Tres Rios Nusery

This staff philosophy is essential in maintaining the long-term success of a sustainable property. Anyone can construct the physical traits that necessitate a green hotel, but if the staff don’t promulgate this attitude, then the entire effort is for naught. It carries through in their work and is immediately seized upon by the guests, each of whom become instant stakeholders in ensuring the long-term success of the Hacienda’s efforts.

What is just as important, is that Tres Rios makes it easy for the guests to practice these efforts along with the staff. People are generally in favor of green efforts when they don’t have to do very much in order to participate. This is especially true while on vacation.

This is one of the points of genius about the Hacienda. Everything has already been done for the guest and the staff spirit of living this ethos makes it all seamless for vacationers.

For me, practicing sustainable tourism is vital and I wish more companies and properties incorporated at least a few of these measures. As someone who travels, I feel a responsibility not to cause harm to the places I visit. This has been conflicting sometimes, particularly on my trip to the Galapagos when I could not get past the feeling that the mere presence of the research vessel was doing greater harm than the resulting benefits.

It may be argued that ultimate sustainability would be to keep areas such as the Riviera Maya free from any tourist encroachment. While certainly a lofty ideal, it is simply not realistic. So, in the face of impending commercialism and travel infrastructure, it is essential that more properties like the Tres Rios be constructed in order to ensure that the devastatingly beautiful natural surroundings stay in near pristine conditions for future generations to enjoy.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

6 thoughts on “True Meaning of Sustainable Tourism – A Case Study”

  1. Great post. I just got back from an “eco-resort” near Playa del Carmen this weekend. It did maintain a lot of the natural mangrove, and it had lots of animals wandering around.

    Another great idea they had was that you needed to insert your room key into a slot to keep the power on in your room. This means that when you leave the room, you have to take the room key with you… and all the lights will turn off in your absense. Great idea.

    Other than that, not a whole lot of “eco” that I saw.

    You should definitely write a post on the methods used at Tres Rios. I’d love to know!

  2. Matt – Excellent point that true sustainability has to be embraced in the attitude and very culture of the staff and not just by top-down implementation of green practices. One major step a resort can make to that end is hiring local workers, buying local produce and supplies when possible, and generally supporting the local economy. It’s human nature that when we see the benefit to actions, we are more ameniable to them; that goes for both resort staff and visitors in accepting and supporting sustainable tourism. Thanks for a very good and insightful post! – Beverly

  3. A stunning example – a great case for us to use in our tourism workshops in NZ, Australia, Vietnam and the south and central Pacific. We are also looking for good cases of accessible tourism – we’re on the verge of a huge change in demographics (e,g, baby boomers) amongst our visitors. We’re also looking for those tourism businesses who are catering for the disabled inc hearing and vision impaired, those with mental health issues, those who are less mobile perhaps because of age, those who are temporarily disabled (e.g. sport injuries, parents with strollers) etc etc. Cases of SMTE who do both (green practices as well as accessible practices) …. well, wouldn’t that be a real change to see !! Thanks Matt for all your excellent blogs and tweets. @RuralTourismNZ

  4. What a fantastic perspective to take on we all should wrap our arms around practicing sustainability during our travels. I really like your angle and appreciate your insights! Great job my friend. You know, I just found a new blog to subscribe to!

  5. Loved to hear your opinion and definitely share your point of view. I think we need to spread the word about how to live these kind of experiences.
    We are creating a network of united travelers and building a platform that allows them to travel in an ecosocially responsible way. Travel as a volunteer to expand your tree of skills or just travel as an ecotourist to live these kind of experiences.
    It is all about facilitating win-win exchanges.

    And the best part is that it is a game.

    We are releasing it pretty soon… so stay tuned and pre-register!!

    Best wishes to all of you…

    “The progress of a civilization is measured by the progress of its cooperation” John Stuart Mill

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