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.
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.