Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ecotourism in Mexico

This week I am delighted to introduce you to Allan Rhodes, an English-Mexican friendly Tripbod who kindly agreed to be interviewed to be interviewed for our weekly blog interview.

Allan, with a University degree in Business Management and a Master in Tourism, Recreation and Parks Management, has worked for the National Commission in Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) for Mexico as a national advisor in tourism in protected areas. In the year 2001, he founded a website promoting ecotourism in protected areas called ecoturismo.latino.com and now he works as an independent consultant for ecotourism and community tourism in Chiapas (where he lives), Veracruz and Oaxaca.

In my interview, I asked him about his current exciting project, since I am especially interested in the awareness and promotion of responsible tourism in these times of mass tourism.

Alfonso Lara Montero (ALM): In 2001 you founded your website promoting ecotourism in protected areas. Where did the idea come from?

Allan Rhodes (AR): The idea came from after travelling through Europe in the years 1999 and 2000. Since I am half English half Mexican, I was working in a hotel near Plymouth in England, and the idea was to develop a website of Latin American destinations related to ecotourism. The idea was that I would travel through Latin America and write about the destinations I visited, the communities and protected areas. When I came back to Mexico, I set up the website, I worked in several projects. I have not been able to do that trip but I have been in contact and created the web called Ecoturismo Latino (www.ecoturismolatino.com), thanks to contacts made on line and it was interesting because it was a way to get involved in consultancy projects here in Mexico and, for example, I have developed the national strategy on tourism for protected areas at the national level with the National Commission in Protected Natural Areas in Mexico. After that, I worked within the Agency, and I have not really touched Ecoturismo Latino at lot because it was not proper to work in government and promote a private enterprise at the same time. The idea thus came from travelling that I love, and the idea was to create a space for travellers, and where ecotourism entrepreneurs could get in touch. That was the main idea.

ALM: What is concretely your aim with such a website? How do you implement that aim?

AR: The concrete aim was to create an information website. Created in the year 2000, then we did not have the tools we have now, Facebook, twitter, etc. The business model was about having online free information and a bit of advertisements that could sustain economically the website. That never happened and I made my living through more consultancy work. The aim of having information on line was achieved, but I had to concentrate on other projects that were giving me money. So, Ecoturismo Latino sustained itself thanks to other projects. Now the idea is to create a platform integrated with Facebook where travellers can share information. Also, we got in touch with Tripbod because we wanted to become advisers for travellers coming to Mexico or Latin America.

ALM: What you have just said is actually linked to my next question. What are the services offered by Ecoturismo Genuino? And Whom are these services addressed at? One of these services I guess is advising…

AR: That’s the new business model we are looking at. One of our main objectives is to be translated into English and Spanish. We have a combination of Mexican nationals going to protected areas but also international visitors. In the case of Mexico, most come from the USA, so that is why we wanted to have our website in English. It was quite of a challenge because I was the webmaster, translator and everything, so it got a bit difficult. That is why for the moment it is just in Spanish, because it was easier to have it in one language, as a first step.
It is mainly addressed at people speaking Spanish within Latin American countries and Spain. We have found out as well that many Europeans have started to speak Spanish as a second or third language, and it is becoming very popular amongst Germans, French, even English, Italians and they want to practice. That’s actually the way we can get in contact with other countries.

ALM: In your web page you speak of “Reuniones Verdes” or Green Meetings in English? What does this concept mean?

AR: Here you are referring to a different website: Ecoturismo Genuino (www.ecoturismogenuino.com), this is my consultancy website. The one I referred to previously is Ecoturismo Latino. In Ecoturismo Genuino we work with government agencies to help local communities develop eco and community tourism. The other area we work on is Reuniones Verdes or Green Meetings. This idea came out from an article talking about the States in which business where fostering corporate meetings in natural areas, so we thought it would be a good idea to develop the same thing in Mexico. Here tour operators are turning their operations to offer services to the big transnational corporations so that they can have team building meetings in natural areas, but we didn’t want to go into the team building business. The idea is that companies not have their meetings in a hired hotel but go out from the city and contribute to the local economy and ecotourism projects, and the company can have the strategic planning or evaluation meeting in a protected area. It was a different experience from having the meeting in the city and go into the country, enjoy the surroundings, but at the same time receive the services of facilitation provided by Ecoturismo Genuino.

ALM: It seems that you promote tourism at a sustainable pace and try to help local communities. How do local communities respond to such initiative? Do you cooperate with them? How is that cooperation implemented?

AR: They are responding positively because they have the infrastructure, since they have been helped either by the government or by NGOs, but the main problem in Mexico is marketing. They got everything but they can’t because they do not have connections. Tourism is becoming the economic alternative in rural areas, but most people there are farmers so they do not know anything about tourism, and therefore, they have lots of trouble in selling their services. We offer them this alternative, and they welcome the idea. We are developing contracts with several of the community based enterprises near to the cities or near airports.

ALM: Do you have any partner in this adventure? Are there similar consultancies in Chiapas or other Mexican states with whom you work?

AR: In the consultancy part we do have lots of partners for advising or helping communities developing. In the case of Green Meetings, we have made an alliance with IIFAC (International Institute for Facilitation and Conflict Solving) that works in Latin America and other countries. They are the facilitators and we provide the logistics. Please see this link to see how we are working with them: http://www.iifac.org/index.php?m=46&s=1&l=sp.

ALM: From 2001 to 2009, it seems that the project has been successful. How would you assess these years?

AR: I could evaluate it in 2 ways. One of the successes is that through the Internet, and working in consultancy and with the government, I have positioned myself as an export in ecotourism in Mexico. The Internet has been a tool to position myself and my websites as a good reference on responsible and ecotourism practices in Mexico at the level at which I do not even have to market my services, but my clients come directly to me. Economically speaking, Ecoturismo Latino has not been a business, more a non profit enterprise, but Ecoturismo Genuino has been very successful, we started this year our consultancy services and they have been very successful. As regards Green Meetings, this year has been the year of developing the idea, making contacts with the community based enterprises and we look forward to launching more formally and promote it more within national and transnational companies in the year 2010. I think that we need to work a bit more in Ecoturismo Latino to relaunch it and recover some of our clients. Now, we have to do that.

ALM: Therefore, it is going to be a hard year of work…

AR: Yes..

ALM: Thanks a lot for your time, I wish you all the best and all success in your professional adventure.

AR: Thank you very much and thanks for this little chat.

4 comments:

  1. So glad to see this happening, it's so important.

    Let us know if there's anything we can do to spread the word. Stop by and tell our readers more about it.

    WeVisitMexico
    http://facebook.com/WeVisitMexico

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember meeting Allan at one of the early ecotourism expos in Mexico City and I was deeply impressed by his commitment.

    What a fine interview! It brings us all up to speed on his work and the potential of responsible green travel in Mexico.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Our earth is in deep need of people who understand, respect & follow the eco friendly tourism. There is enough damage already done for human luxuries of life. To keep the earth, a planet for other species too, here are few details about concept & practical actions of eco friendly tourism, refer: http://www.journeyidea.com/save-our-planet-earth/

    ReplyDelete
  4. The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.


    www.onlineuniversalwork.com

    ReplyDelete

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