Today the Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung (Institute for Tourism and Development), Ammerland, has announced the award winner of the international contest for socially responsible tourism.
On the occasion of the 38th International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin, the TO DO! 2003 was awarded to BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK in Mexico. A second potential award project from another Central American country was able to bear the scrutiny of the appraiser at the location - based on the criteria - but in the opinion of the contest organiser the marketability of the project is not yet optimal. "We will not abandon the potential award winner", said the chairman of the Institute, Armin Vielhaber, "but encourage him to pursue the course taken up."
From 13 entries received three came from industrialised countries and ten from developing countries. There was, therefore, no change with regard to the dominating segment of entries and award winners after this round of the contest. "Fifty-five percent of all entries received so far and even 80 percent of the award winners come from countries of the South", says the director of the Institute, Dietlind von Laßberg.
The BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK stands by its objectives and proposes objectives", underlines Dieter Kronzucker in his laudatio for the award winner. "Unclimbed mountains, uncrossed deserts, undiscovered jungles - there is no such thing any more. Those looking for new things had better find out about people, in their cultural environment, in their landscapes, in their lives." Mexico, said Kronzucker, was one of those countries that "is wide open to theese different voyages of dicovery, a country that always welcomes open-minded people".
The term BIOPLANETA stands for a "network of networks" comprising mainly rural, self-reliant and partly indigenous cooperatives. Seen from this perspective BIOPLANETA is the super ordinate brand of the network, a non profit organisation, think-tank, agency and lobbyist for several different but holistically related fields of activities and business sectors. The administrative headquarters of BIOPLANETA is in Mexico City, but - spread over 58 communes in 13 Mexican federal states - it basically focuses on agro eco-logy/ organic farming, processed products, handicrafts, and last but not least: on ecotourism. The transitions between these fields of activities are quite often smooth, but only a certain part of the communes involved is active in tourism.
Under the umbrella of BIOPLANETA these communities form the BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK. The emphasis is on ecotourism and tourism-related regional development in rural and poorer regions of the federal states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. The members of BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK are either organised in the form of cooperatives or in communal ownership.
This structure is easy to comprehend if one looks at the example of the "Oaxaca Coast Network", an association of four projects with different activities which complement and support each other. Two leading firms hold the key position in this network: The cooperatively organised tourism agency "Servicios Ecoturisticos de la Ventanilla" (named after the village Ventanilla on the Pacific Coast with 125 inhabitants) and the small but very nice cooperative of the "Mazunte Natural Cosmetics" company in the neighbouring commune of Mazunte. Both locations are situated between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, i.e. a little more than 30 minutes from Huatulco airport.
If one knows the founding history of the two cooperatively organised firms one can also comprehend how these two companies are inter-acting. "Mazunte Cosmetics" is owned by twelve women and three men, it was first sponsored by Anita Roddick (founder of "Body Shop") and for the last seven years it has been completely independent, achieving a weekly turnover of up to 50,000 Pesos (about 5,000 Euro). Considering local conditions this is a very lucrative and flourishing company. Mazunte has so far been particularly popular with tourists travelling independently and so-called backpackers who often buy products in the factory outlet of Mazunte cosmetics. They purchase not only cosmetics there but also a number of other products from member firms of BIOPLANETA (eco-cocoa and coffee, honey, natural dyes, wooden toys etc.), and they can also get some information on ecotourism activities offered in the neighbouring village of Ventanilla. With some of the profits earned through the flourishing factory outlet in Mazunte the foundation of "Servicios Ecoturisticos de la Ventanilla" was financially supported in 1998 (in addition to financial means of the local population and a donation from the Canadian Embassy). This fact led to the development of the village cooperative "Servicios Ecoturisticos de la Ventanilla". At peak periods some 3,500 tourists (mainly day tourists) visit the eco-village in order to book a boat trip to the local mangrove forests, rich in flora and fauna. They have their meals in the (very good) village restaurant and enjoy their stay at a beach unspoiled by building complexes. As a consequence, the inhabitants of Ventanilla employed in their own cooperative and purposefully promoting a socially-responsible and environment-friendly kind of tourism have a stable income and have been able to usher in and implement a self-determined development.
After the success of these two BIOPLANETA members - and here we can see the philosophy, i.e. the principle of solidarity of BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK at work - a third project was supported by the former two: That of the eco-peanut and sesame farmers of the coastal village Tomatal who are now able to sell their products through the entire BIOPLANETA network (among others in the factory outlet of Mazunte Cosmetics). These three village projects in turn (plus some sponsors) are presently supporting the fourth community associated with the "Oaxaca Coast Network", the eco-cocoa cooperative of Toltepec. This way, the village will profit from the visitors to Mazunte and Ventanilla, through a theme-oriented day excursion into the world of organic coffee and cocoa production (excursion, "transparent production", cafeteria sale). If a self-determined regional development is based on this form of cooperation and practised solidarity, the objectives of BIOPLANETA as a whole can easily be made out: To be a national network of rural, self-reliant or communal initiatives, joined in their efforts to overcome poverty, a network practising an exchange of experiences and know-how, offering reciprocal financial support and sustainable and common marketing.
A case in point is also the indigenous community of "Pueblos Mancomunados". This is an association of seven mountainous villages in the Sierra Norte (at a distance of one and a half hours from Oaxaca City). In this beautiful high mountain region with peaks of up to 3,400 m, rich in forests and abounding in water, the Zapotecos villages established the agency "Expeditiones Sierra Norte". In this context it initiated communally marked hiking trails for excursions of one day or more, horse trekking and bike tours. In each location there are clean and neat houses (where the guest can either do his own cooking or go to a village restaurant). In Oaxaca City the villages community runs its own agency offering interested holiday makers programme options, organising their stay, reserving accommodation, coordinating tour guides in the villages and organising transport (partly with its own busses) or bike rental.
At least the Mexican market has meanwhile opened up for these villages which were absolutely unknown some years ago. On an annual average each of these villages hosts around 150 hiking or biking tourists per month. The profit gained from this eco-tourism business is evenly spread among the villages involved with a population of between 200 and 600. The means invested in the realisation of "Expeditiones Sierra Norte" by the people of the villages from their own resources (some 1,148 million Pesos or 120,000 Euro) amount to almost 50 percent of the total investment. The course up to this stage, i.e. up to the "finished product" has all along been accompanied by BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK through its know-how. A survey of all the partners involved in the BIOPLANETA network in Oaxaca and Veracruz is given in the diagram at the bottom of this press information.
One wonders why such offers have so far mainly been used by the Mexican market and by a segment of young American and Canadian independent travellers. The majority of tourists from other foreign countries focuses on internationally known destinations such as Cancun, Acapulco and of course Mexico City.
The enormous diversity of the country has so far hardly been perceived although the tourism infrastructure is available. Not least due to a very efficient, cheap and punctual bus system covering the whole country. Within hours the traveller on such domestic tours finds him/herself in almost all climate zones and types of landscape. From the tropical humid heat of the coasts to the dry cold of the high mountains, from the beach, through the steppe and rain forests to high alpine areas.
Basing itself on its exhaustive knowledge of the country BIOPLANETA ECOTOURISM NETWORK has organised its network activities accordingly and has shown that and to what extent tourism is able to contribute to a socially responsible regional development and through it also to poverty reduction. This is because the individual measures have been adjusted to the prevailing conditions and implemented together with the people involved. Decisions were taken with them and not for them.
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The TO DO!-Contest is organised by:
Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung e.V.
in co-operation with:
German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth
Among the long-standing supporters of the TO DO! is also:
Air France (Logo)
"The TO DO! contest will be announced once more in May 2004 and again be supported by state and church institutions as well as by enterprises in the tourism sector".
Responsible for the
text: Klaus Betz