Riviera Maya’s New Role as Ecotourism Hub

By Mandy Chomat Executive VP of Sales & Marketing, Karisma Hotels & Resorts | May 26, 2013

One of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations, the Riviera Maya spans nearly 100 miles of the Caribbean coastline in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, located on the eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. The region offers an unparalleled variety of stunning landscapes and natural beauty, from white-sand beaches and crystal blue water to jungles, cenotes, mangroves, inlets, lagoons, and barrier reefs, including the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the world’s second largest reef and stretches from Mexico to Panama. It is also the celebrated home of ancient Mayan archeological sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza – which was named one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Riviera Maya was largely isolated for many years until the development of Cancun as a tourist destination in the 1970’s. Over the past two decades, the Riviera Maya has grown exponentially in popularity, appealing to travelers who seek an alternative to the mega-resorts of Cancun. In 2011, a record-breaking 12 million tourists visited Riviera Maya with 13 million expected to visit the region this year. Located twenty minutes south of the Cancun International Airport and with year-round temperatures in the mid-80’s, Riviera Maya has become one of North America’s most convenient and popular destinations, featuring recreational activities, nature, culture, and hospitality that appeals to every type of traveler.

Additionally, Riviera Maya’s biodiversity and varied ecosystems are unique draws for travelers, and the destination’s ecological parks and reserves – including Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Sian Ka’an – are some of the most popular activities. As the number of visitors to the region increases, it is essential to preserve and protect the area’s natural resources and beauty, which raises the topic of ecologically responsible tourism, or ecotourism.

Getting Involved: How to Start a Green Program

I would suggest that hotels and resorts looking to establish an eco-friendly initiative seek out reputable organizations that promote environmental responsibility. Hospitality companies can look to the organizations – whether it be a national institute such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or a regional cause – for the various elements required to enact a successful green program. We have found this connection to be crucial as the organization provides a set of standards and practices to adhere to, therefore enhancing the credibility of your company and program.

The MesoAmerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) is a collaborative initiative that aims to ensure that the spectacular natural resources that draw millions of tourists to the MesoAmerican Reef each year are maintained and enhanced for the benefit of current and future generations. MARTI engages leaders from both the public and private sectors in key tourism industries, including hotels, cruises, and marine recreation operators, in order to fulfill its goal of integrating sound natural resources management and sustainable practices into Riviera Maya tourism development and operations by 2016.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.