COZUMEL, MEXICO—Cozumel has taken a giant leap forward in its quest to become one of the world’s leading sustainable destinations, through the development of an action plan focused on three priority destination stewardship initiatives.
An island of turquoise waters, dazzling coral reefs, white beaches, and rich cultural heritage, Cozumel faces the common challenge of maintaining a sustainable growth trajectory while at the same time, protecting its natural and cultural heritage. The popular Riviera Maya destination attracts approximately 240,000 overnight tourists and 3 million cruise visitors to its shores each year, making it the world’s second most-visited cruise port of call.
More than 35 local leaders from government, private sector and civil society gathered in February to develop an ambitious yet realistic roadmap that will address critical sustainability issues facing Cozumel. The resulting action plan is built around three key initiatives:
• Establishment of a destination-level quality and sustainability standard for operators in the tourism sector;
• Development of a map guide promoting destination stewardship, which will highlight the natural, historic and cultural assets unique to the island; and
• Establishment of a destination-level water conservation and reuse program.
These initiatives respond to the priority issues identified through a Rapid Sustainable Destination Diagnostic carried out in 2012 by the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) in close collaboration with Sustainable Travel International, Cozumel’s Grupo Intersectorial and the Municipality’s Sustainable Development Department.
Culmination of 10-Month Process
“This is the culmination of a 10-month journey that has helped us to highlight risks, identify goals and map out an action agenda for sustainable tourism management at a destination level,” said Lic. Federico Ruiz, Cozumel’s Deputy Technical Secretary for Sustainable Development. “We see this initiative as an integral part of our 20-year Sustainable Tourism Plan, which was recently completed, and that we are now working to put into action.”
Cozumel’s destination sustainability diagnostic report indicated that Cozumel has made significant progress on key destination management issues, but also highlighted the considerable work still to be done. Cozumel ranked highly on three issues, including safety and security of visitors, regulatory framework for cultural heritage preservation, and management of visitors in natural and culturally sensitive sites. At the same time, there is an urgent need to foster broader local ownership in the tourism sector, incorporate culture more deeply as part of Cozumel’s tourism product, and tackle pressing energy issues.
Local leaders treated the results of the destination sustainability diagnostic as a serious call to action. Working groups were formed to bring the three key initiatives to fruition, in order to demonstrate tangible results within the next 12 to 18 months.
Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Sustainability
“Sustainable Travel International’s Rapid Destination Sustainability Diagnostic is helping us to make sustainability truly actionable,” said Javier Pizaña, President of Cozumel’s Grupo Intersectorial. “Through this process, leaders on the island have reaffirmed our commitment to share responsibility for more effective sustainable destination management. This is a monumental accomplishment.”
MARTI and Sustainable Travel International have plans to replicate the destination sustainability diagnostic process throughout the Caribbean Basin and other priority regions of the world that are important to tourism.
“Cozumel’s efforts demonstrate global leadership,” said Seleni Matus, Sustainable Travel International’s Senior Advisor, Destination Management. “The island is one of the first destinations in the world to conduct a destination sustainability diagnostic that is based on internationally vetted indicators for sustainable destination management. We hope that Cozumel’s work will inspire other destinations in the Mexican Caribbean and beyond to pursue collective action for sustainable destination management.”