Mr. Chomat

Eco-Friendly Practices

Riviera Maya's New Role as Ecotourism Hub

By Mandy Chomat, Executive VP of Sales & Marketing, Karisma Hotels & Resorts

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.

The Mexican Caribbean has been one of the fastest growing tourism destinations globally over the past 20 years with more than 75,000 hotel rooms in Riviera Maya, Cozumel, and Cancun. In response to this tremendous growth, MARTI has engaged hotel companies, investors, developers, and architects to plan, design, build, and operate sustainable hotels and resorts. This partnership is dedicated to leveraging tourism as a force for biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development by providing the necessary tools to help stakeholders simultaneously protect their investments and the region's environment. As of spring 2012, more than 130 hotels have participated in MARTI'S Hotel Component programs, with the most popular being the implementation of an Environment Management System (EMS). MARTI'S EMS works with the hospitality industry to reduce its environmental footprint, including the integration of practices aimed to reduce the consumption of energy and water and to minimize the generation of solid waste, which ultimately results in environmental and economic benefits.

At El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma, a premier collection of ten Gourmet Inclusive properties in Riviera Maya, we aim to set the standard for environmentally-conscious tourism in the region, encouraging other area resorts and hotels to do the same. We chose to become actively engaged with MARTI, given its vast influence and relevance in Rivera Maya. All of our employees have undergone an extensive training program outlining the MARTI initiatives and illustrating the benefits derived by its implementation. Our hotel management chose to take our involvement a step further and launched Pasión por el Medio Ambiente ("Passion for the Environment"), a program designed to promote guest and staff participation in environmentally sustainable practices. By employing sustainable hotel guidelines throughout our properties, environmental consideration is incorporated into the daily practices of our guests and local staff, encouraging them to educate friends and family on the value of sustainable practices, including water and utility conservation, as well as the numerous benefits of recycling in Riviera Maya. Garnering the support and involvement of your employees with green initiatives is imperative and will ultimately lead to guest participation and satisfaction.

Small Initiatives That Make a Big Difference

It is essential that hotels and resorts striving to become leaders in sustainability make it a priority to incorporate green measures into their goals, ultimately resulting in fiscal savings and efficiency. Since the inception of Pasión por el Medio Ambiente, we have achieved several noteworthy milestones at El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma, including the implementation of solar panels throughout all properties, which help to heat 40 to 100 percent of the water at each resort, and more efficient and eco-friendly laundry services that use reverse osmosis to reduce waste. Additionally, El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma have implemented quality controls for linens, restroom sensors, and the use of green cleaning suppliers, such as Diversey. New energy efficient air conditioners and dehumidifiers were installed throughout all of the properties and at El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort, by Karisma, landscaping efforts utilize recycled water from chemical-free laundry services provided by the resort. The resort collection has also embarked on a recent project to repurpose used cooking oils into biodiesel fuel, which could potentially power the properties' emergency generators and landscaping equipment.

We are also proud of our major recycling initiative that is underway at El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma, where extensive measures are taken to ensure that all garbage is separated and recycled properly, including hazardous waste, organic items, glass, and paper. Recycling bins are located throughout the properties and feature signage educating guests as to the importance of recycling. Employees are also encouraged to bring in their recycled goods from home once a week, which are then processed on property. At each property, guest rooms are equipped with environmental tent cards illustrating eco-efficient practices and encouraging preservation of water and electricity as well as recycling suitable materials. The implementation of a recycling initiative is a relatively simple way to engage employees as well as resort guests, who appreciate and enjoy being able to continue their at-home recycling routines while on vacation.

Seek Innovative Solutions That Enhance Your Bottom Line

In order to maximize the implementation of sustainable practices, companies must choose solutions that are practical and beneficial to their bottom lines. I've found that a key strategy for increasing efficiency and reducing costs is vertical integration, which helps hotels and resorts successfully apply sustainable practices. In 2009, as part of our commitment to sustainability, El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma completed construction on a 100,000 square-foot greenhouse - the Riviera Maya's largest greenhouse and the first resort facility in the region - located at El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort, by Karisma. Produce and herbs from the now expanded El Dorado Royale greenhouse services our entire Gourmet Inclusive hotel collection, including nine sister Gourmet Inclusive properties, where guests savor exceptional food and service in a dining experience that fosters togetherness. The on-site greenhouse also services several high-profile neighboring resorts as they consider its produce to be the freshest in the region. Comprising 15 greenhouses in all, the greenhouse facility allows the resort to control the growing environment and choose specific produce characteristics such as taste, size, and color while "extending the seasons." By growing vegetables on-property, we are able to reduce emissions created during the transportation of products from their harvest locations to the resort as well as minimize out-of-pocket costs.

The expansive greenhouse celebrated its first harvest in August 2009 and is expected to produce 11 tons of crops in 2013. Now in its seventh harvest, the greenhouse grows a variety hydroponic vegetables and herbs, including heirloom tomatoes, arugula, papaya, cucumbers, bell peppers, chilies, basil, parsley, and mint. The greenhouse also offers employees the opportunity to purchase the vegetables grown on-site. Green initiatives seem to be most successful when employees become invested and involved in the program, therefore acting as on-site ambassadors for hotel guests.

With the on-site greenhouse, we strive to heighten guests' Gourmet Inclusive culinary experiences by ensuring that only the most flavorful, hydroponic vegetables and herbs are used. While the 'farm to table' concept is thriving in foodie towns like San Francisco, this 'greenhouse to table' concept is unique to destinations like Mexico and caters to the increasing demand by consumers for local and sustainable foods. It is critical to stay ahead of consumer trends in order to drive guest satisfaction.

In 2011, El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma further enhanced the guest experience with the introduction of comprehensive educational tours of the greenhouse, complete with interactive planting activities and cooking seminars, where guests learn about the hydroponic processes of the greenhouse and its environmental impact and have the opportunity to taste fresh vegetables right off the vine. These tours are also offered to local residents, community organizations and foundations, and surrounding schools. Again, educating your customers and community is an integral strategy when establishing green hospitality initiatives.

Always Keep Innovating

At El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma, we endeavor to ensure that tourism development is in harmony with the surrounding ecosystems, a goal that is accomplished through various means, including the on-site greenhouse, everyday sustainable practices, employee and community involvement, and introduction of new initiatives. In 2012, all ten El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma were certified by Green Globe Travel, a sustainable travel resource and booking site. This year, we are working towards the Rainforest Alliance certification, which provides consumers with a guarantee that all products used on property are produced in a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable way. The on-site greenhouse just became the only greenhouse facility in Riviera Maya to be certified by the Rainforest Alliance, with a 93 percent overall score. Additionally, our hotels and resorts serve Nespresso coffees as part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, which was developed in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance to help farmers adopt best practices in high quality coffee cultivation. After making a commitment in 2009, we now source 80 percent of our coffee from the program. Lastly, we're pleased to be enhancing our crop cultivation and making it more robust by expanding the greenhouse to a total of 150,000 square feet and beginning to grow outside of the greenhouse, which will allow for an even greater variety of locally-grown produce and herbs for our guests.

Our hope is to provide a key example of what sustainability measures can be taken by hospitality partners to ensure that a growing tourism industry protects and nurtures the region that it celebrates. Riviera Maya is an incredible destination that offers a unique combination of natural beauty and resources, culture, and adventure that the hospitality industry plays a key role in preserving. Thanks to organizations such as MARTI and hospitality partners like our dedicated team at El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma, we're confident that Riviera Maya will remain a leader in the ecotourism sector, and we will be able to maintain the beauty and authenticity of the destination.

Armando “Mandy” Chomat joined Karisma Hotels & Resorts in 2007 as the Vice President of Sales & Marketing. He oversees brand concepts and provides sales and marketing leadership for the collection of luxury properties. With more than 35 years in hospitality sales and marketing Mr. Chomat brings knowledge and experience to his role. Previously, he spent 17 years as the Unique Vacations Worldwide Representative for Sandals & Beaches Resorts. Mr. Chomat also served as the president and owner of Trac, a sales, marketing, and development company that focused on consulting corporations looking to expand their business in Latin America. Mr. Chomat can be contacted at 305-445-1077 or mchomat@karismahotels.com Extended Bio...

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