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 email@example.com 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.