Posts Tagged ‘TIES’

Costa Maya: new frontier or antithesis of geotourism?

Written by admin on April 5th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

A recent USA Today article extolled the delights of the “New Maya Frontier.”

Puerto Costa Maya photo by Roger Theriault

Puerto Costa Maya photo by Roger Theriault

Much of the story focuses on Mahahual, a once sleepy fishing village, pop. 80. That was before the Mexican government hatched its plan to transform the area into what has become Mexico’s second busiest cruise ship port. Puerto Costa Maya was designed to accommodate six cruise ships at once. In 2006 it deposited more than a half million tourists, most of whom were directed straight to Puerto Costa Maya, a shopping, cultural and recreation complex for cruise ship passengers only.

In 2007, only a Cat 5 hurricane named Dean, stopped Puerto Costa Maya from hitting the million cruise ship visitor mark. The article is clearly intended to convey the news that after a frenetic year of rebuilding, Puerto Costa Maya is back in business.

I stumbled upon a blog from one cruise ship couple who had visited the port and described their surprise at discovering the real Mahahual. Their cruise ship hosts apparently forgot to mention that there was life beyond the confines of the staged authenticity of the port complex.

I imagine it goes without saying that the cruise ship passengers also weren’t told of the damage to the reef and the pollution left in the wake of the cruise ships or the vital mangrove swamps destroyed to pave the way for mass tourism and vacation time share real estate developments.

On the upside, I can always hope that maybe now that the cruise ships actually stop in the area perhaps they don’t jettison their trash as they pass offshore where currents deposit it directly on the beaches of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just to the north of Mahahual. Or at least that was the case when I visited the Reserve in 2000 for a cross-cultural writers workshop and was appalled by the unconscionable amounts of cruise ship pollution littering what should have been a pristine beach.

A few years ago a report by the The International Ecotourism Society, clearly largely ignored by the Mexican government, described possible impacts from the planned Cancun-style development in Mahahual. TIES warned that the hotels and timeshares financed largely by, and designed to attract, giant piles of foreign investment dollars, will at a minimum, raise the cost of living for the locals and at worst, force them to move elsewhere. News reports hint that the widening economic gap is already showing signs of creating social tension.

The population has grown from 80 dependent on subsistence fishing BC (before cruises) to 3,500 mostly dependent on tourism.  Earlier projections estimated population could skyrocket to 25,000 as early as next year, and reach nearly 100,000 in 15 – 20 years AC (after the arrival of cruise ships).

You know, it’s bad enough that, as the USA Today story notes, many tourists to the area already are under the gross misimpression that the Maya disappeared from the area long ago. If plans like this by the tourism ministers of the Maya’s elected leaders in far away Mexico City go unchecked, sadly, the tourists may well prove to be prophets.

Friends of geotourism: Martha Honey

Written by leehart on February 20th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

An ecotourism hero I’m proud to have crossed paths with is Martha Honey. Martha started her professional life as an investigative journalist based in Central America and East Africa. As a freelance journalist, Honey reported for such esteemed clients as The Times of London, The Nation, ABC TV and National Public Radio.
Along with her husband Tony Avirgan, Honey had a ground floor, up-close window on some of the most volatile but little understood wars of those regions. She chronicled the CIA’s War in Costa Rica including eyewitness accounts of a botched assassination attempt. Her experiences in Africa led to the essay “Racism, Exploitation and Neglect: Bush and Africa,” which was included in the book “Power Trip: US Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11.” She and Avirgan also published a book “War in Uganda: The legacy of Idi Amin.”
Advocacy and investigate journalism seem to go hand in and the travel industry should count its lucky stars that Martha decided to take up the banner of ecotourism. I met Martha just shortly after she had become executive director of The International Ecotourism Society.
During her tenure from 2003 through 2006, TIES took many noteworthy steps including the following:
• Moved its offices to Washington DC
• Conducted the first worldwide study on the social and environmental footprint of nature-based lodges
• Supported relief efforts and advocated for sustainable tourism in Indian Ocean countries devastated by tsunami
• Sponsored the first conference on Ecotourism in the US
• Launched distance learning courses and Sustainable Tourism Certification with George Washington University.
Martha left TIES to form her own ecotourism-focused non-profit called the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development.
In conjunction with Stanford University and the Institute for Policy Studies, the mission of the non-profit CESD is to design, monitor, evaluate, and improve ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices and principles. Its policy-oriented research focuses on ecotourism as a tool for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, as well as socially and environmentally responsible tourism practices.
Martha has written and lectured widely on ecotourism, Travelers’ Philanthropy, and certification issues. Her best-known book is the seminal “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?” recently updated and re-released by Island Press.