By Sergio Morales Polo*

In Mexico, tourism is the third most important source of income after oil and the remittances sent by the so-called braceros or migrant workers. Because of this, one would suppose that the residents of tourist destinations enjoy a higher standard of living than the national average. But the reality is that the quality of life in such resorts leaves a lot to be desired. The evidence is readily apparent in the destitute neighborhoods of Cancun, Acapulco, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, among others.

It seems logical to assume that if the primary source of income and employment in a region depends on the natural environment—the ecosystems, landscape, flora, fauna, private spas and outdoor sports venues—then the region’s residents, government officials and business owners would spare no effort to protect this natural heritage, to care for it as if it were the goose that lays the golden egg. Yet, their actions indicate the contrary. They build hotels that mar the landscape, destroy mangroves, deplete aquifers, change the natural environment and throw trash everywhere.

The United Nations (UN), intent on reversing these undesirable interactions between humans and nature—which are evident the world over—issued the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, signed at the XIII General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization held in Chile in 1999 (see The assembly issued a framework of recommendations and the accompanying directives to begin to build what the UN refers to as “responsible and sustainable tourism development,” that is; sustainable socially as well as economically, environmentally and culturally.

The UN is counting on the good will of the involved nations and is encouraging them to adopt the code, insisting that there “should not be two types of tourism development, one responsible and the other irresponsible.” Responsible Tourism establishes three objectives: 1) to encourage fair and sustainable tourism development as defined from an economic, social and environmental perspective, with the goal that the tourist  activity  benefits  the  residents  of  the  tourist  destinations where the activity is carried out; 2) to encourage the ethical behavior of  enterprises  operating  within  the  tourist  industry; 3) to encourage
solidarity and cooperation between the tourist industry and tourist destinations, with the aim of improving the area’s economic and social standing through programs of tourism development.

Furthermore, in the Declaration of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, the nations present agreed to the following: “to promote sustainable tourism development aimed at increasing the benefits to communities while maintaining their cultural and environmental integrity as well as strengthening the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and environmental heritage; and to promote training of local people in order to strengthen the well-being of the local and rural communities.”

To comply with the agreement, Mexico has established public policies, goals and requirements through a variety of legal documents, including the National Development Plan, the National Tourism Program, the National Environmental and Natural Resources Program, and the Agenda 21 for Mexican Tourism. It is safe to say that sufficient means already exist to establish responsible tourism development in Mexico, but at this time they are still no more than good intentions.

What is lacking clearly is public pressure to force municipal governments to:  1)  strengthen  municipal  tourism  boards’  efforts  to carry out the necessary functions of: planning, programming, guidance, dissemination, standardization, evaluation and promotion of regional tourism development; 2) create a Municipal Tourism Council, in order to democratize the  decision-making process  and make access
Grassroots Bulletin on Sustainable Development in Northwest Mexico
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Mexico Lags Behind
in Responsible and
Sustainable Tourism

One of the goals of responsible tourism is to promote understanding of the host community's natural and cultural qualities.
(Photo:Ernesto Bolado Martínez)
to information easier for all of the players involved; 3) promote the city council's endorsement of and adherance to the Earth Charter Initiative and the forwarding of the document to the UN. In the same manner municipal officials should develop and implement the Municipal Agenda 21, an instrument conceived to put into practice the principles of the Earth Charter Initiative, which includes a special chapter for sustainable tourism development; 4) create the Strategic Plan for Tourism and a corresponding Operating   Plan;   5)  establish  an Internet website to brief tourists, entrepreneurs and the local community about the philosophy behind  “sustainable   tourism,”  as well as the

The model of coastal real estate development demands a huge quantity of natural resources, mainly water, and brings few real economic benefits.
(Photo: Aaron Eslimán)

Construccion en dunas
Construction on coastal dunes puts the infrastructure at risk because of sea level rise and beach erosion.
(Photo: Ernesto Bolado Martínez)
municipality’s strategy and the advances made in the operational plan; 6) create an Urban Development Plan that takes into account the water resources and the maximum sustainable carrying capacities of the various sites, and 7) develop a code for investors and entreprenuers that sets out the basic tenets of responsible tourism so that they will know about the acceptable conditions under which they might invest and operate.

Obviously, there is much to do and journalists dedicated to environmental conservation have much to contribute to the resolution of this colossal challenge.

Founding member, Grupo Ecologista Antares, A.C., Loreto, B.C.S.