Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
It would be interesting to hear what other funding sources are contributing to these efforts, including not just grants but also investments in the private entreprises that benefit from (and therefore steward) the Mara River Basin. Though a U.S. agency's debt or equity investment in a foreign country may raise new governance and sovereignty issues, ideallyinvestments like the one USAID just made could hold some prospect of repayment. At a minimum, it might be worth the effort to see what other types of funds could be attracted to the basin as a result of USAID interest in the region.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
1. Measuring environmental performance: Although we were involved in the global effort to establish a scorecard for the environmental and social performance of tourism development, we were never quite sure how these efforts would play out, and whether they would ever have a positive impact on development practices. How would it gain widespread adoption where other efforts had not? Nonetheless, perhaps the most important effort, among other worthy ones, seems to have come to fruition, and it will undoubtedly have an impact on a large portfolio of tourism investments. The Inter-American Development Bank developed the IADB tourism scorecard for their investments (typically projects greater than $100 million). Given that this bank invests hundreds of millions in tourism annually, this is a pretty big deal. (Kudos to Jorge and his team.) It remains to be seen what will become the standard for smaller projects.
2. Social media in ecotourism: It's a sign of the times when the Ecotourism Spotlight Awards is rewarding the best online presence of a government ecotourism organization, not some other worthy triumph in the tourism space. (Ecotourism Laos won the award, for the third straight year.)
Of course, examples of online ecotourism content abound. Indeed, social media is at the core of the integrated marketing strategies; it won't take you long to find a good example out there.
Future successes will likely include the use of content generated by users (enabling visitors and employees to get the word out about quality ecotourism) and, according to one emerging Web 3.0 definition, online interactions that lead to offline action: deal-making, positive impact, and so on. For now, we're trying to decide if Twitter Search is really a good way to follow ecotourism...
3. Ecotourism hitting the American West: Earlier this summer, New Mexico held a conference about ecotourism, and it struck as a novel headline. In this country, and especially in the West, tourism is heavily dependent on the 'wonders of nature,' and these assets are (usually) protected and stewarded. But ecotourism is a new term in the U.S. The result in New Mexico, announced last week, is a $250,000 initiative authorized by the governor. The work will include taking an inventory of ecotourism assets throughout the state and educating communities on ecotourism, including teaching marketing skills related to that sector. EcoNewMexico will work with state agencies and other public and private entities.
Increasingly, ecotourism is seen as a way of maintaining growth in tourism revenues in an economic downturn in ways that respect and sustain the natural assets that attract tourists in the first place. The New Mexico effort was undertaken largely because ecotourists appreciate that state's significant cultural and natural offerings. And they spend more. Similar stories are popping up in Colorado and elsewhere in the West.
4. New capital for responsible development: Ecotourism is an indirect way of paying for the environmental services (biodiversity, carbon sequestration) provided by our favorite tropical vacation destinations. While direct payments for these services may be a more economically efficient means of protecting the natural assets we care about, ultimately those are new tools that are inevitably difficult to do. Thus, ecotourism is seen as one of the next best things.
Although some established funds, notably Root Capital, have actively supported responsible development in the past, we are excited to hear about new sources. The newest fund, announced in early September, brings new focus to another established funding source: Verde Ventures will support new biodiversity-friendly businesses in and around World Heritage sites, in partnership with the UN Foundation and UNDP's Small Grants Program.
5. Portals: Aggregated information is important: the value of Rainforest Alliance's work in certification is a good example. So we really benefit from the established experts in ecotourism controlling the information overload. Planeta has apparently been around a while, and its site traffic is not insignficant. Importantly, it's a wiki, so so it's harnessing collective knowledge rather than relying on one person's narrow experience. New ones are popping up, too.
6. The science of ecotourism: Before we get too carried away with the virtues of ecotourism - remember, there's a not insignificant carbon cost associated with most of this travel - there's plenty of science to support the policy-making and business development. It can only be promoted more, in order to move this work beyond academic circles.
7. Agro-ecotourism: Anyone who's been to Napa Valley knows that a popular, lucrative product can get people very interested in farming. Two other foods that people tend to be zealous about - coffee and chocolate - grow in tropical countries, which presents a real opportunity given the overlap with ecotourism in these areas of the world. This overlap seems to be a somewhat growing area with real potential.
Coffee, it turns out, is a very important industry in these tropical countries, for economic livelihoods. For biodiversity, coffee's expansion into sun monoculture is a very real and recent concern. Unfortunately, the coffee tourism we saw in Panama was primarily sun monoculture. However, the increase in demand for shade-grown coffee, albeit within a pretty small niche of consumers, leads us to think there's an opportunity for the shade growers, with the bird habitat and other pluses they provide in addition to a quality cup of coffee, to differentiate their agro-ecotourism experience.
8. Tourism and biodiversity: Many successful (and genuine) ecotourism businesses have plenty of luxury amenities to go along with the nature. But, first and foremost, the biodiversity is the key to these businesses. And, in turn, the businesses can benefit the biodiversity, mainly by protecting the land from alternative development scenarios, and, secondarily, by promoting stewardship among visitors and local communities that benefit from the business. This phenomenon is not just in the tropics; and you can probably find plenty of other examples even farther north.
9. Understanding the investment issues: Triple bottom line performance is also being discussed at a major conference in this space. In the ESG domain, investors are increasingly recognizing environmental degradation as a major risk factor to realizing return on investments in tourism.
Again, there remains a major gap between supply of triple bottom line projects, demand for responsible investment opportunities, and the measurement tools to connect the two. We will be looking for, and working toward, mature tools moving forward.
10. Applying sustainable development lessons: Not a new concept in ecotourism circles, the needs of local stewards of the environment is seen as an increasingly important component of the success of responsible development practices. And gaining more funding and support every day. Our main concern is how well this approach will scale, relative to private-sector approaches and other alternatives.
This coincides with major advances in measuring the impacts of funds like Verde Ventures' new one - so-called impact investing. A new report from the Monitor Institute outlines the major hurdles still to be addressed before impact investing is anywhere close to the mainstream. Here are three of these hurdles, and some comments on where the Verde Ventures fund stands:
1. Unlock Latent Supply of Capital by Building Efficient Intermediation—Enable more investing for impact by building the investment banks, clubs, funds, and products needed to facilitate existing interest.
These entrepreneurs are a couple worlds away from mainstream investment capital: they're in far-flung places, they're small and speculative concerns, and there are language and numerous other barriers to attracting investment capital. The fact that CI focuses its efforts on, and has an installed base of contacts in many of these World Heritage places will address almost all of these barriers. The major remaining barrier - the fact that these enterprises still are small and speculative - is addressed in part by the 'social returns' nature of the fund, meaning that the funders are looking for a return of their capital, but beyond that they are looking primarily for environmental and social impact as well as modest financial returns.
2. Build Enabling Infrastructure for the Industry—Build the ecosystem for impact investing, including common metrics, language, and an impact investing network that can serve as a platform for collective action such as lobbying for policy change.
Here is where the challenges may lie. We have been working towards common metrics in a common language, while working on global sustainability indicators for tourism. But even we were focused on a particular type of tourism development in a small part of the world. This fund, however, will need something that applies across grantees (in a variety of industries) in different parts of the world, and with each business having a distinct impact on the success of the World Heritage Sites. Comparing across geographic regions means accounting for variations in the extent of surrounding economic and physical development (e.g., infrastructure, biodiversity of roads, etc.), among other factors. Creating something that is substantially more than a "look-back" afterthought for this initiative will be crucial. We hope there is plenty of time and money spent on this aspect of the fund.
3. Develop the Absorptive Capacity for Investment Capital—Develop investment opportunities and ensure high-quality deal flow by cultivating talented entrepreneurs and supporting the enabling grants to support entrepreneurs in building their businesses, and particularly developing biodiversity-friendly strategies and practices.
This, of course, is where this fund really earns its keep. Not only will the fund make loans and other investments, but it explicitly makes grants for building capacity among the entrepreneurs to build successful businesses in regions that demand environmentally responsible business practices. It's intermediaries like the ones involved in this fund, as well as Root Capital and others, that are needed to employ capital that is increasingly ready to test these ripe waters.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Fortunately, such projects exist. To learn more about this niche industry, we focused our initial research on Playa Viva, a resort in the early stages of development near Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Playa Viva is promoting an innovative approach to development that goes a step beyond sustainable and incorporates regenerative development goals. In other words, they are restoring distressed land, in this case a palm plantation, back to its native landscape. The plan is to create a low-impact resort and residential community that can finance restoration and conservation.
During our visit, we thought about how we would go about evaluating Playa Viva’s development plans and what environmental and social criteria could be measured, particularly at such an early stage in development. The project became the case study upon which we built our methodology for evaluating responsible tourism developments. The field trip and sunset surf sessions provided a nice break from our laptops and Excel, and reaffirmed our hunch that we were working in the right industry.
A recently released article, "Good Preachers: Students' eco-tourism firm to fund guilt-free travel", highlights some of the additional work Coastal EcoVentures and Playa Viva are doing to support investment in and travel to sustainable tourism developments.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
But international tourists are only part of the story. Just as the majority of tourists to be found at most attractions in the U.S. are, in fact, Americans, the tourism industries of Mexico and other Latin American countries also are dominated by domestic visitors.
In Mexico, 80 percent of total tourism expenditures (and 60 percent of the spending on lodging) come from Mexican residents, according to a 2001 OECD study. (In some places, of course, international visitors dominate.)
Why should we care? Well, in our minds ecotourism can only be sustainable if tourist activities maintain the integrity of the ecosystems where eco-resorts are found. And local residents are almost always the best stewards of that. Community-scale stewardship is the most critical, but all domestic visitors have a stake in stewarding the natural landscapes within their country's borders.
Since domestic tourists are, on average, probably less affluent than visitors from America and other (richer) countries, it's also important to have tourism options at all price points, not just the luxury experiences that often exclude the average middle-class tourist. On a related point, we should be sensitive to the potential for a lagging level of appreciation of environmental values among domestic tourists, stemming from simple things like education and even access to the internet.
Domestic tourism is in some ways a measure of the interest in and appreciation of a nation's environmental assets, and we're glad to see it's alive and well in Mexico. Strong domestic tourist flows will, we hope, provide the capital to maintain and restore ecologically important lands. We'll be watching for studies to confirm that domestic tourists are just as interested in eco-friendly travel as Americans are becoming.
Friday, May 15, 2009
And often it is financing that's the missing piece. Environmentally friendly projects, such as investments in energy efficiency, typically generate positive returns but are passed over in favor of even more lucrative projects. (Energy efficiency investments often take many years to pay for themselves.) The tight credit markets don't help, but this problem is not unique to recessionary periods.
So we'll start using this blog to discuss new financing mechanisms that increase access to capital and thereby expand the use of responsible development practices in ecotourism. And the first topic is the role of government-led financing.
Developing countries routinely receive funding from the world's richest economies - through the big development (e.g., massive lines of credit) and from the private sector - to support economic development and environmental protection. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), for example, sends money directly to national governments, which then have discretion over how the money is used. More and more, the World Bank and related institutions are giving these governments leeway over how they use the money and, more generally, how they set and enforce environmental regulations.
Many developing countries also enjoy a robust tourism sector, which often dominates local economies. And it's becoming increasingly evident that consumers want more responsible tourism experiences.
So there is money available from two sources (development banks and tourists) that demand environmental protection. And some investments in environmentally friendly development (like energy efficiency) often don't get made because scarce capital is employed in more readily available projects with shorter payback periods.
What if a national government administered a revolving loan fund to support tourism development that simultaneously meets national goals for economic development and environmental protection? Good projects would get the capital they need, while less environmentally friendly forms of development would be discouraged implicitly (though not outlawed entirely).
The mechanism would invest in projects that meet high standards of environmental performance, recognizing that such environmental performance often requires significant capital investment above and beyond that required for a viable development. The revolving fund could even specifically target investments that normally don't get funded, like investments with a payback period of seven years or more.
The method for evaluating the environmental performance of tourism developments must include a quantitative, outcome-oriented analysis of whether (and how) each stands up to a set of environmental standards, like in our EcoValuator scorecard.
A revolving fund would return capital to the national government, with a small return to pay for costs of administration and to ensure the financial sustainability of the program over time.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
After a rest day in Puerto Varas and a climb of Volcan Osorno - a stunningly symmetrical cone overlooking a massive glaciated lake - I headed to the tourist center of the Lakes District: the town of Pucon.
I went there to visit El Cani, a forest reserve that's home to the endangered araucaria tree, which has a limited range that is pushed to its limits by the expanding development frontier. El Cani was saved from land conversion by a local ecotourism proprietor. Revenues from a nearby ecoresort were used to finance the purchase of the reserve, which has since become a tourist destination in its own right. The araucarias are still safely perched on an isolated ridge within El Cani, this tree's last remaining outpost in the region.
Pucon is overrun by touristm, but don't blame the tourists. Countless recreational activities populate the region, including an active but accessible volcano that's practically inside the city limits.
From an environmental perspective, such masses of tourists may be cause for concern. And there are undoubtedly impacts on water quality in Lago Llanquihue (though fortunately the lake is huge), and certainly local pollution from the frequent traffic jams and innumerable autobuses ferrying tourists to their daily outdoor excursions.
But clustering of tourist activities is a good thing in many contexts. Even mega-destinations, like Cancun in Mexico, could be good for conservation: although they leave a staggering imprint on local ecosystems, they provide millions of tourists with the tropical vacation experiences they demand without disturbing large tracts of intact wilderness elsewhere in the tropics. Imagine how those landscapes would hold up if all those people chose more remote destinations located closer to important tropical ecosystems.
So there are trade-offs. We think part of the solution is to promote limited tourism development that provides economic development opportunities that encourage stewardship of critical habitat for biodiversity while avoiding the environmental costs of intensive development practices. The answers won't come easily, but we're working on ways to assess these alternatives, both at the project level and at a regional scale. We see great promise in some forms of "limited development" ecotourism, and we hope to identify and promote the most responsible forms of development.
As for fast Spanish: I have a long way to go on my Spanish skills, but every visitor to Chile agrees: Chileans talk really, really, ridiculously fast.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
An hour inland from the Pacific Coast, Boquete sits at around 1,500 meters above sea level and is surrounded by coffee plantations. There are plenty of Americans here - Boquete was featured by AARP a few years ago - but the coffee industry remains the dominant force in the local economy. A full day of walking through the surrounding hillsides opened our eyes to the vibrant and varied coffee-growing activities, all well-insulated from the growing stream of tourist traffic.
(By the way, nice to see that the local enterprises are capturing a majority of the coffee value chain: all the way from growing and harvesting the raw beans to processing, roasting and packaging.)
Although not a new concept, we think there is an under-utilized opportunity for growing tourism to be integrated with and even to benefit local coffee growers. Coffee-loving tourists, after all, love to see the plantations, a lesson the wine industry knows well.
And ecotourists, drawn to the beauty and "intactness" of the natural landscape, will no doubt demand a responsibly grown product, complete with polyculture and safeguards for biodiversity. Thus, coffee tourism can serve to protect biodiversity by ensuring responsible cultivation practices are used. In conjunction with coffee certification schemes - including fair trade, shade-grown, and the like - the coffee-drinking public will be educated about the impacts of their consumption decisions, thereby (we hope) reinforcing price premiums in the market.
In a place like Boquete, which borders a massive national park reaching across the nearby border with Costa Rica, coffee tourism could also expose visitors to the intact landscapes beyond the agricultural frontier.
Working in a fast-paced, nascent start-up, we can certainly appreciate the caffeinated pleasures of a good cup of coffee (at any hour of the day or night). To be sure, we'll be using this invaluable resource as do field research and other tasks this summer and beyond. As our work progresses, we'll be looking for opportunities to responsibly integrate important local industries with ecotourism. In the coming months, we'll be checking out coffee tourism taking place in Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The race, involving 11 leatherback turtles on their annual migration from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean, was a nice encore to the 2007 race from Costa Rica to the Galapagos, in which Stephen Colbert's namesake narrowly lost.
Turtles have come up a few times in our research on coastal ecotourism. After all, turtles, perhaps more than any other species, rely exclusively upon beach habitat for nesting. In southern Mexico last summer, we helped "launch" some newborn leatherback (the largest turtle species) and golfina turtles from a turtle nursery.
The nursery, called La Tortuga Feliz ("The Happy Turtle"), is notable because of the direct involvement of tourists and the local community in turtle stewardship. Also notable: about 100,000 turtles hatch at this site every year.
Sounds pretty touchy-feely, but in fact several turtle species are endangered and attract plenty of regulation from local governments - which often enact laws to protect the endangered turtles - along with conservation groups. Historically, turtle eggs have been a food source for local beach communities.
Ecotourism projects can do their part by establishing links between local environmental assets (like turtle nesting grounds) and increased tourism demand, an important industry in many coastal Mexican communities. Located within a new ecotourism resort, La Tortuga Feliz offers a chance for tourists to volunteer in the nursery, a valuable learning opportunity, not to mention an attractive selling point for the resort.
Hard to believe the newborn turtles will survive the currents, fishing nets and predators of the open ocean between Mexico and the Galapagos. But witnessing their lives on the edge made us appreciate the importance of protecting their beaches even more.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Talk of the recession, frozen credit, and home foreclosures seems to dominate the airwaves these days. So it's natural to think that tourism, one of modern life's great indulgences, might be jettisoned quickly by consumers worried about the long-term health of the global economy, not to mention their own finances. After all, staycations can be enticing when money is tight.
Yet many economists and decision-makers, including tourism experts at the United Nations, herald tourism as an essential part of the economic recovery. Tourism is the world's largest industry in terms of jobs, especially for young people, women and other new entrants into the job market.
And many experts are arguing for increased support of tourism, an important source of international trade, in the various stimulus packages being developed around the world. Tourism even got some consideration at the recent G20 meetings in London.
One of the biggest headlines from G20 was the rich nations' decision to provide $1.1 trillion (via the IMF) in loans and financial guarantees. This credit is intended primarily for developing countries, citing the developing world as the key to the global recovery. Since tourism is a pillar of so many Latin American countries, tourism reasonably will figure into the economic recovery.
Tourism is also linked to climate change, so the best investments in tourism must effectively deal with the potential downsides of future development. For our team, that means smart siting, design and construction decisions in resort and infrastructure development, as well as a keen eye toward the negative impacts of land use change, which is especially important in tropical countries. Not to mention that the aesthetic beauty and other natural assets are what draw tourists in the first place.
Monday, April 13, 2009
April 12, 2009
By Tom Kelly
Is Mexico safe?
In recent weeks, the question has become common. But curiously, many people with second homes in Mexico don't seem too worried about it.
"You think Americans really are not visiting Mexico because of crimes in the papers? Don't they realize it's basically a border deal among drug gangs?" asked Jerry Kerr, a native of San Francisco who spends his winters windsurfing in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortes.
Kerr has a point. Recent news reports, including a segment on "60 Minutes," have depicted the entire country of Mexico as being an absolute mess, awash in blood and guns on every street corner. Ironically, people living there have a dramatically different perspective, especially in the "fly-in" destinations that continue to appreciate in value.
Despite what you may have heard, read and seen, the country is not under siege. The laid-back lure of Mexico's beaches, forests, deserts, people and culture has been capturing visitors and second-home buyers for decades and has become an international draw no longer driven solely by Americans and Canadians. Not only is land plentiful, exotic, captivating and beautiful, it also is typically more affordable than most of the property found in America's getaway areas.
Kerr's little casa across the street from the water near the tiny village of La Ventana, 40 miles south of La Paz, has nearly doubled in value in the past five years. He can walk to get basic groceries and wax for his windsurfing board while La Paz, home to 200,000 residents, supermarkets, hospitals, banks, cultural events and an international airport, is less than an hour by car.
The La Ventana area is gated and fenced on all sides -- not for protection from criminals but to prevent the neighboring cattle from invading the property and munching on the vegetation.
"Vandalism and theft have never been a concern,'' Kerr said. "In fact, our home and well being are much safer in Mexico than in California.''
Much has been written about the kidnappings, roadside hijackings, crooked cops and bandits in some regions of Mexico. Most of the violence south of the border, however, is directly related to the drug cartels and the authorities who are trying to eradicate them. There is absolutely no pattern of any innocent U.S. citizens being randomly murdered in drug violence.
Though much of the violence occurs in border towns, Mexico City has had major problems, as has the community of Culiacan, two hours north of Mazatlan. In reality, Mexico needs and wants tourism, and the country is doing a much better job protecting foreigners.
Unfortunately, the negativity surrounding the country comes at a time when more and more Americans could use a less expensive place to live. According to a new report by Washington, D.C.- based Center for Economic and Policy Research, baby boomers have not saved, will be forced to work longer and/or move to less expensive places than they anticipated. Property taxes, health care and cost of living will force boomers strongly consider moving to other countries, especially if they plan on living at the same level of comfort as they do now.
Let's remember that the United States is plagued with inner-city crime. Guns are commonly used in the U.S. (they are against the law in Mexico), and convenience store clerks should receive combat pay. Tourists in the states also are attacked, often with more violent consequences than are found in many "uncivilized" countries.
Mexico is still a relatively safe place to live and visit. However, some gringos continue to leave their brains at the border and behave as if all of Mexico is a safety zone -- acting totally differently than they would back home. Public drinking may be tolerated, and even encouraged in many Mexican tourist destinations, but public intoxication can easily lead to a spectacle and arrest.
As with anywhere on earth, think twice before walking home alone at 3 a.m. Play it safe and smart, no matter where you are.
Original link: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20090412/BIZ/704129944/-1/RSS01
April 10, 2009
By Emily Waltz, PlentyMag.com
Source: Mother Nature Network
The industry is still working out kinks in certification schemes.
Conscientious consumers might look for the organic label when buying milk and the Fair Trade logo when purchasing coffee, but finding a certified ecotourism operation for your next vacation isn’t so straightforward. By some estimates, there are nearly 100 different certification programs globally, all with different logos. As a result, even experienced ecotravelers don’t recognize certification labels when they see them, leading the ecotourism industry to question whether the schemes are attracting tourists.
Certification schemes measure the ‘greenness’ of tourism products such as hotels, guided tours, attractions, and transportation. The programs are designed to help travelers discern the less scrupulous businesses from those that truly take significant steps to lighten their environmental footprint. Certifiers establish criteria in categories for everything from energy conservation to community impact. Businesses that want to be accredited must meet the criteria, often by installing certain equipment, changing their purchasing habits and adopting new practices like measuring water consumption and training employees on sustainability. Businesses pay annual dues—anywhere from $200 to $2,500—to receive accreditation, and sometimes extra fees for auditor visits, which can run about $1,200 per day.
Certifiers’ websites, when travelers do find their way to them, range from slightly helpful to confusing. Most programs operate in a single country or region, and have only a handful to a few dozen members. “It’s really hard to find a full selection of places on any one of them,” says Rachel Lubin, an environmentally conscious traveler who has attempted to plan trips through certification organizations. “I felt like I was missing out on the good places,” she says. “It’s easier to look through traditional outlets and then figure out which places are sustainable."
The new global baseline criteria probably won’t help streamline travelers’ searchers for sustainable tourism operations as the scheme doesn’t aim to unify logos. But the criteria could at least provide assurance to travelers that their certifier requires businesses to meet internationally-recognized standards.
Whether certifiers will actually adopt the criteria remains to be seen. Founders of the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council have been working for nearly a decade to set up a global program to certify the certifiers, and just recently said they have enough support to launch their scheme early next year.
“I think a new layer of bureaucracy will add costs and it will be quite some time before it adds benefit,” says Xavier Font, a tourism expert at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, referring to the various efforts to create global standards. Adding to the bureaucracy, tourism boards such as Visit Britain in the UK have agreed on their own initiative to certify their certifiers.
The goal of the global baseline criteria isn’t to create a new international certification scheme, but to establish core standards that regional certifiers can adapt for their particular regions, says Christina Cavaliere, a spokesperson for The International Ecotourism Society, or TIES, the industry’s oldest organized group, established in 1990.
“Certification schemes need to be individually inclusive of the environment and culture in which they are operating,” she says. “So the certification program that is working for Costa Rica may not necessarily be the best tool for Sweden."
Even so, some experts suggest establishing one global brand that travelers everywhere can identify. Proponents point to the success of the Fair Trade label, an increasingly recognized marker worldwide that ensures products such as coffee or chocolate were produced with certain labor standards.
But critics of global branding schemes say tourism is more complex than coffee. Green Globe, a certification organization, attempted to create an international accreditation scheme, but critics say their membership fell short. “All of the efforts for a global brand have not worked,” says Font. “A lot of money has been spent on Green Globe and a lot of that money has seen no return,” he says.
Tourism operators certainly expect to see returns on their certification investments. They expect more sustainable operations, better employees, lower energy costs, and above all, more business. Accredited businesses are reaping some of these benefits, but they say they’re not attracting tourists in the way certifiers promised.
The problem, say experts, is marketing. Many certifiers don’t advertise to travelers. “They don’t do much in terms of promotion, which I don’t think I understood at the outset,” says Ella Grace Quincy, who owns Old Country House Bed and Breakfast in Worcestershire, England and has been accredited by two ecotourism certifiers and says very little business has come from them.
Instead, certifiers rely on regional tourism boards which, for the most part, have made paltry attempts to steer travelers to certified businesses. “It’s a resource issue,” says Andrea Nicholas, a spokesperson for British accreditation program Green Tourism Business Scheme. “Most [certifiers] can’t afford to market on their own,” she says, “and that’s one reason why we rely on tourism boards."
Despite the shortcomings of the industry, there are some regional successes. The Green Tourism Business Scheme has certified more than 1,700 businesses in the UK—double their membership just two-and-a-half years ago. Travelers can search its website by region or type of business and come up with a decent list of destinations. In early August the group will complete a new site that offers direct booking and green travel tips.
Some tour operators find value in certification even if doesn’t directly bring new business. “I think its worth going through the certification process to show people you are serious,” says Ronda Green, a zoologist who runs Araucaria Ecotours in Australia, and is certified by Ecotourism Australia. Green says her business has always followed sustainable practices, but that going through the certification process taught her the importance of lowering the wattage in flashlights used when walking through animal habitats and other valuable tips. “How much certification has helped our business? I couldn’t put a figure to it,” she says. “We’ve had maybe a few people say they came through Ecotourism Australia.”
Story by Emily Waltz. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in July 2008.
Link to original website: http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/travel/stories/find-a-certified-green-ecotourism-operation
Copyright Environ Press 2008
Sunday, April 5, 2009
17 Feb 2009
Viva la vida verde
Mexico is at a critical point on its path to sustainable development, says a new publication from leading UK sustainable development organisation Forum for the Future.
Launched in Mexico City today by Forum for the Future founder Jonathon Porritt, Viva la vida verde offers a snapshot of a country which is working hard to balance its emergence as a major economic power - possessing massive mineral and fossil fuel reserves - with its role as the custodian of 10-12% of the planet’s species and its huge potential for exploiting renewable energy sources.
As Mexico prepares to host World Environment Day in June, Viva la vida verde depicts a country with a newly dynamic economy but also producing 1.5% of global CO2 in 2008 - the most of any country in Latin America and facing the challenges of absolute poverty levels at 20%, water shortages, high rates of deforestation, the increasing frequency of hurricanes – linked to climate change, and continued desertification and air pollution.
These facts, combined with a 107 million population that is set to grow by 27% by 2050 create a huge responsibility for Mexico’s current leaders and businesses.
But recent improvements in environmental management and a commitment to sustainability issues by President Felipe Calderon’s administration show that progress is being made and that Mexico has every chance of harnessing its potential in a sustainable way.
“There are certainly promising signs that the Calderon administration is taking its environmental and social responsibilities seriously,” says Jonathon Porritt.
He goes on to highlight steps such as “...enshrining sustainability as a priority in the national development plan, setting out plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions, expanding sustainable forestry, protecting biodiversity and boosting wind power.”
Viva la vida verde charts this progress towards sustainable development and includes examples of business and governmental leadership, which should inspire, not just Mexicans, but the international community:
- the Mexican tourism industry, one of the biggest in the world, is linking up traditional package holidays with local food projects and coral reef conservation;
- Mexico City has an ambitious Green Plan – with a goal of being self-sufficient for water by 2022, the introduction of waste to energy plants and a citywide recycling scheme;
- Mexico is to plant 250 million trees over the next decade;
- conservation efforts are being made to protect species such as the monarch butterfly;
- President Calderon sees a Green Fund as a better way to reduce global carbon emissions than the Clean Development Mechanism.
UK environment secretary Hilary Benn, who is leading the UK-Mexico Sustainable Development Dialogue, writing in Viva la vida verde says “Mexico’s unique position as a newly industrialised country, with one of the highest global rates of biodiversity, plus a growing urban middle class and the changing consumption patterns this brings, make it all the more important for Mexicans to ‘live the green life."
Benn continues, “We have much to learn from each other... In this globally interconnected world, countries cannot achieve environmental protection and sustainable development alone.”
For all media enquiries, please contact Alex Johnson, Media and Publications Officer, Forum for the Future at firstname.lastname@example.org or on ++44 (0) 20 7324 3624 and on ++44 (0) 7765 253 231Download a copy of the report in English here or Spanish here
Friday, April 11, 2008
President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa of Mexico has confirmed Huatulco will receive an unprecedented investment of 54 million pesos (£2,577,386) in 2008 to develop Huatulco as a tourism destination. This is five times greater than the average investment since 2000.
Huatulco is a coastal town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca where the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. Huatulco is about 500km south of Acapulco and is divided into four main districts; the tourism industry will be developed around the town’s nine bays.
The Federal Government, the 12 Secretaries of State, the Oaxaca state government and the Huatulco local government have signed an agreement to implement a strategic and diverse programme to stimulate major economic growth for the local community and draw more national and international visitors to the area. The government and the private sector both recognise the potential for tourism in Huatulco and will work together with the community to ensure all developments, whether directly or indirectly linked to tourism, are properly co-ordinated and progressed. President Calderon said: “Huatulco will be the symbol of what the government, private initiatives and the public can achieve together following a clear action plan”.
Over the next six years 2,500 new hotel rooms will be built catering for all markets, with a focus on the premium traveler. The government is liaising with prestigious international brands and the private sector to build boutique hotels, five star properties, a golf course and low rise condominiums. Elizondo Torres, Minister of Tourism in Mexico, said: “It is important for us to work with international as well as national companies because they have the experience of the demands of tourism, and the aim for the development of Huatulco is to attract tourists from around the world”. Other important plans for tourism include the expansion of Huatulco airport to enable it to welcome direct flights from Europe and Asia and the provision of tourism amenities.
Improving the quality of life for those living in Huatulco is an equally significant component of the development programme. Credit will be offered for local people to start small and medium sized businesses, and housing and education projects will receive considerable investment."
Manuel Diaz Cebrian, Director of the Mexico Tourism Board UK, Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands, said: “The sensitive and sustainable development of Huatulco as a tourism centre demonstrates the commitment of all stakeholders in the Mexican tourism economy to work together. The support for the local community and infrastructure are vitally important for the enduring success of tourism initiatives, which increasingly form a fundamental part of the Mexican economy.”
Saturday, April 4, 2009
March 31, 2009
The Caribbean tourism sector - pushed by its hotel industry - has launched a 24-month project to move towards energy efficiency.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) - through its environmental arm, the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) - are launching a $2 million effort to implement energy efficient practices and help hotels generate renewable energy.
The Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action Program (CHENACT) is using Barbados as a case study, complete with detailed energy audits that may render a better understanding of energy consumption patterns among Caribbean hotels, according to a press release.
CHENACT was the brainchild of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which is contributing $1 million. The remainder of the budget is coming from a number of participating agencies and the government of Barbados.
Other agencies include:
- The German Technical Cooperation (GTZ).
- The Centre for Development Enterprise (CDE) based in Brussels.
- The Inter American Development Bank (IDB) through the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative (SECCI).
- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP)
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria Partnership, a coalition of 27 organizations, last fall issued criteria for sustainable tourism.
The guidelines focus on four areas: maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities; reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage; reducing harm to local environments; and planning for sustainability.
Monday, March 16, 2009
March 06, 2009
by Robert Kropp
Principles for Responsible Investment publishes eight-point plan to help institutional investors avoid the pitfalls that contributed to current economic crisis.
SocialFunds.com -- As owners of the financial institutions whose practices led to the economic crisis, institutional investors must accept a share of responsibility, according to the Board of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which released an eight-point plan for institutional investors to respond to the crisis.
The Board of the PRI asserted that the Principles provide a robust framework for assisting investors in their response to the crisis, and called on institutional investors to work together to improve risk management practices and create a culture of active ownership.
The eight-point plan espoused by the Board calls on institutional investors to see responsible investment as an important response to the current economic crisis and to increase their investment in activities that enhance understanding of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues. Investors should become signatories to the PRI as well, said the Board.
Institutional investors should provide agents such as fund managers with concrete incentives to help them better understand ESG issues, and invest in active ownership by monitoring their investments and engaging as activist shareowners in their portfolio companies.
The plan also calls on institutional investors to engage with regulatory agencies to ensure that consideration of ESG issues is part of the solution to the crisis, and to publicly disclose their responsible investment activities.
Donald MacDonald, Chair of the PRI Initiative, said, "We believe this current crisis could have a catalytic effect of shifting the mainstream investment sector towards more responsible investment practices. Institutional investors can make a positive contribution to rebuilding trust and confidence by taking action in support of our eight-point plan."
Thursday, March 12, 2009
03 March 2009
27 February 2009: The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has announced a contest to finance proposals for promoting energy efficiency and access to renewable energy in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The contest will award up to US$200,000 for projects that propose novel solutions to the region’s energy shortages, particularly in rural and low-income areas. The contest is funded by the IDB, GVEP International, GTZ and the Government of the Republic of Korea. It will award between US$4-6 million over the next three years.The criteria for evaluation include degree of innovation, developmental impact (economic, social, and environmental), scalability, replicability, financial sustainability, institutional capability and the quality of the proposal, implementation strategy and projected risks. Proposals must be submitted by 15 May 2009, and the winners will be announced in August. [IDB Press Release]
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
By Leanne Tobias, March 9, 2009
Last week brought me to San Francisco to speak at Infocast's Green Building Finance and Investment Forum. Lead sponsors of the event included Galley EcoCapital, Miller Canfield and Conestoga-Rovers & Associates. I feel fortunate to have helped create this conference in early 2008, and my company, Malachite LLC, continues to co-sponsor this energetic series. The March 2009 conference was our third, and I'm surprised how far green finance and investment has come in a year's time.
In the February 2008 conference, our first, we spent a fair amount of time documenting the value proposition associated with green real estate investment. This year, that presentation was no longer needed-conference attendees have seen repeatedly that green features can be delivered cost-effectively to the market and that sustainability leads to faster leasing, higher tenant retention and stronger-although, in this market, not necessarily premium-rental rates.
Are sustainable buildings immune from the economic downturn? Of course not. But conference participants -- including such multi-billion investors as TIAA-CREF, the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and the Multi-Employer Property Trust (three investors who continue to put money into the property market) -- find green properties better positioned to weather the storm than conventional properties. Why? Lower water and energy costs are valuable tenant commodities in times of economic distress, and tenants appreciate the superior amenities found in green buildings-among them, more comfortable temperatures, cleaner finishes and more natural light. And as the real estate market slackens and tenants have wider choice in spending their real estate dollars, many will be taking advantage of market rental rate declines to secure better space. That favors higher green building occupancies.
Especially striking over the last year has been the rapid refinement of financing, contractual, leasing and management protocols to guide the development and operation of green buildings. Among them:
• No-downpayment financing mechanisms to support energy-efficient retrofits. The energy-savings performance contract (ESPC), which effectively leases green upgrades to the property owner under a long-term contract, was pioneered in the federal government sector, but has been extended to private sector use. Hannon Armstrong, a leader in this market, now provides such financing for privately-owned buildings. Hannon Armstrong has revised the ESPC structure to reflect commercial real estate needs, says John Christmas, senior vice president for energy efficiency financing. Christmas and his team underwrite potential ESPC properties for cash flow and appraised value, and require investment grade contractors to install improvements.
• Performance contracting in the construction and renovation of green buildings. The use of performance contracting is growing more important with respect to the functionality of green features and the attainment of green certification, according to a panel of green attorneys, including Greenberg Traurig's Doug White, Hanson Bridgett's Howard Ashcroft, and Daniel Slone of McGuire Woods. Developers and investors are being increasingly advised to make a property's LEED certification a performance specification. As well, financial penalties and incentives are increasingly being linked to the attainment of a green building rating.
• New leasing and management protocols. At the property level, new leasing and management practices are being adopted to guide sustainable building operation. In the current soft market, landlords and tenants frequently supplant confrontational lease language with cooperative provisions, says Marc Winters of McNaul Ebel. Under this lease model, pioneered in Canada, enhanced sustainability performance is a goal shared by owners and tenants. Another key aspect to green leases are pass-through definitions, reports Cushman and Wakefield's Steven Ring. Owners, tenants, management companies and their attorneys continue to tackle this question as 2009 begins. Among the questions: should LEED consulting costs be passed through to tenants? How about revenues and costs associated with the sale of renewable energy credits?
• Growing use of environmental performance as a screening feature in space decisions. In marked contrast to prior years, commercial leasing brokers are becoming increasingly conscious of sustainability issues, and environmental requirements are being added increasingly to standard property RFPs (requests for space proposals), reports David Pogue of C.B. Richard Ellis.
The verdict? Green building investment continues to hold its own and evolve, even in the biggest economic slump in close to a century. That's one of the few things to cheer about in 2009.
Leanne Tobias is founder and principal of Malachite LLC, an advisory firm that specializes in the development, leasing, management, financing and certification of sustainable or green real estate on a global basis. Comment online, or write to Leanne about your green real estate thoughts and experiences at email@example.com. She'll share the best of reader feedback in future posts.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
March 2, 2009
Hotel Reduces Costs by Recycling
By reducing its trash and recycling more, a Marriott Hotels location is generating savings.
After starting a recycling and composting program in February 2008, the University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference Center by Marriott has achieved significant savings, according to this press release.
Here is a comparison of 2008 versus 2007.
- In 2008, about 28 tons of trash left the hotel per month, or about 336 tons a year
- In 2007, the hotel generated about 37 tons of trash per month, or about 444 tons a year.
Of the 336 tons generated in 2008, 10 percent was recycled (glass, metal, paper, cardboard), 32 percent was composted (food scraps, plant materials), and 52 percent was trash that ended up in landfills. The recycling and composting resulted in annual savings of $6,000.
The hotel started a “green team” last year and hired as its compost vendor Envirelation Inc., according to the release. In addition to training employees on what can be recycled and how to separate it, the team examined other areas in the hotel that could be reevaluated, including the restaurant and kitchen.
Recently, Marriott began giving its customers the opportunity to “green” their hotel stay for an additional dollar per day.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
February 11, 2009
Green Business Travel At Risk In The Recession
Companies are still committed to a Corporate Social Responsibility platform, but certain aspects of CSR, such as “green” forms of business travel, are beginning to suffer in the recession as organizations prioritize cost-saving over supporting sustainable travel, according to the latest opinion poll by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and KDS.
The study of 329 travel managers and business travelers from around the world found that 61 percent of organizations now have a CSR charter, compared with 59 percent in 2008. Moreover, almost 30 percent of corporate travel departments are required to report carbon emissions performance to management.
However, the survey also found that this commitment to CSR does not translate into greener travel choices, which are often more expensive. Almost 80 percent of companies rated cost-cutting as the top business travel concern, while environmentally sustainable travel is a high priority for only 17 percent.
As viewed in Environmental Leader on February 12th, 2009
February 11, 2009
Sustainable Companies Outperform Peers During Financial Crisis
A.T. Kearney announced findings in a new report which showed that companies focused on sustainability outperformed their peers by 15% during the financial crisis.
The report, titled “Green Winners: The Performance of Sustainability-focused Companies in the Financial Crisis” looked at 99 companies with a strong commitment to sustainability as defined by the Sustainability Index and the Goldman Sachs Sustain Focus List.
Over the six months from May through November 2008, the study found that in 16 of the 18 industries studied, companies committed to sustainability averaged $650 million more than the industry average in protected market capitalization per company.
Dr. Daniel Mahler, author of the study, said, “We find common characteristics among the leading companies that show that sustainability goes far beyond the narrow definition of being environmentally friendly.”
These characteristics include:
- A focus on long-term strategy, not just short-term gains
- Strong corporate governance
- Sound risk-management practices
The firm released a study in 2007 revealing that while 60% of companies have sustainability strategies, only 36% have applied it to their supply chain. EL has reported in the past on A.T. Kearney’s ‘carbon-neutral consulting.’
As viewed in Environmental Leader on February 12th
Monday, February 9, 2009
Viewed on February 9, 2009
By Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY
La Paz (The Peace) is the capital of Baja Sur, one of two Mexican states that make up the 800-mile peninsula. With about 200,000 people, it is also the largest. The main attractions are beaches, desert and water sports, but the small city also boasts an impressive malecón, a waterfront promenade with shops, restaurants and hotels. Long popular with tourists for its combination of urban amenities and sleepy-fishing-town feel, La Paz is suddenly popular for its price: Homes are far less expensive in La Paz than in pricey Los Cabos, 130 miles south.
Two hours north of La Paz, Loreto is undergoing more aggressive development around a pristine bay that houses the 800-square-mile Bay of Loreto National Marine Park, a U.N. World Heritage Site. The area had been identified by FONATUR, the Mexican government's tourism investment arm, as a site with potential, and infrastructure was built to encourage development.
"The government has poured $200 million into an airport, roads, sewage, everything developers need," says Mark Codiroli, sales associate for the new JW Marriott Residences complex here and a longtime Baja real estate agent.
Codiroli, who is from San Francisco, became entranced with Baja Sur years ago and recently bought in Loreto. "If you were familiar with Cabo 30 years ago, when it was a sleepy getaway for Hollywood stars and fishermen, and you wished you had bought then, that's what this area is now. Prices are about half of comparables in Los Cabos."
Not everyone agrees. "Loreto is not the next Cabo," says Jim Spano, president of the Loreto Visitors Bureau. A master plan regulating building height, zoning and density will keep it from being overbuilt like Cabo, he says. "Think of Loreto as the 'Eco Cabo.' "
A look at three La Paz and Loreto neighborhoods
• La Paz: On a waterfront peninsula, Paraiso del Mar has the region's top golf course, an Arthur Hills design, plus homes and condos from $200,000 to more than $1 million; nearly 4,000 units are planned (paradiseofthesea.com). Many buyers consider downtown enclaves near the beach and shops, where bargains abound. Condos near the water begin at less than $100,000, two-bedroom homes with pools are in the $200,000s, and luxury homes with four-plus bedrooms run $500,000 to $1 million.
• Nopolo: Second-home construction is booming in this small beach resort town 7 miles south of historic downtown Loreto, including a JW Marriott Residences planned for late 2010. "People hear Marriott and think hotel or timeshare, but this is just whole ownership condos with a resort feel and hotel services," Codiroli says. The project has a spa, marina and private beach, and condos with two to four bedrooms will have waterfront views and outdoor living areas. Large condos begin at about $750,000. (liveloreto.com)
• Loreto Bay: One of the largest residential projects here with 6,000 planned homes, Loreto Bay uses a "new urbanism" design, with homes clustered into several villages strung along 3 miles of beach and linked by paths for bikes, walkers and golf carts. It has a golf course and hotel as well. Loreto Bay currently offers furnished two-bedroom casitas with extensive outdoor living areas for $365,000 with larger models under development. (loretobay.com)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
29 January 2009
UNWTO Tourism Resilience Committee Stresses Need for “Smart Tourism”
28 January 2009: At the first Meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Tourism Resilience Committee, which convened on 28 January 2009, in Madrid, Spain, participants discussed the need for the sector’s short-term response to the economic down-turn to be aligned with long-term commitments to sustainable development, poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation.
Speaking at the meeting, UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General Geoffrey Lipman called on member States and the sector to strive for “smart tourism,” which he defined as clean, green, ethical and quality at all levels of the service chain. He underlined that the green economy approach is well suited to the tourism sector, noting that many green tourism jobs could be created. [UNWTO Press Release]