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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.