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: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.