Sustainable Tourism: Talking is fine but then you have to act (sustainable, responsible, ecotourism in Mexico) 2011
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Conversation in 2011 Tianguis News
“Talking is fine, but then you have to act!” We were lucky enough to be able to carry out an interview with Ron Mader for The Tianguis News. Here¹s the dialogue (TN: Tianguis News / RN: Ron Mader).TN.- As you say in your ‘Introduction to sustainable tourism’ , there are many forms of sustainable tourism. For example, the other day I read a poll where 81% of people answered that ‘walking’ is adventure tourism. Should that surprise us? RM.- Not at all. Climbing mountains and rafting rivers are hard adventures but soft adventures certainly include walking. For example, living in Oaxaca I often take friends to see the *Tule tree, an ancient Mexican cypress tree. Most people who visit there just park their cars for 5 minutes, have a look at the tree and leave. We also walk around the village, have a coffee, an ice-cream and talk to the people. By doing this, we actually contribute to the local community and show our interest goes beyond the atrium of the Tule Tree. Sustainable tourism is really about the ‘experience’ and the ‘contribution’ factors that connect locals and visitors.TN.- I’d say the ‘experience’ aspect is probably high on the list in the sense of indigenous ‘community projects.’ How do you see this tourism niche here in Mexico?RM.- In general, around the world, community tourism projects have a pretty dismal record with an 80-90% failure rate. The main reason for this is inadequate organization within the communities themselves. When they manage this the other big challenge is getting themselves noticed. Though there are people interested in their services, in reality they often don¹t know what’s on offer or how to find it! I've had the privilege of working with the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity in developing an international award for Indigenous Tourism, but in two years of the award we've only had one applicant from Mexico. Community projects and indigenous services need to speak up more and show visitors what they offer.TN.- Is the Web 2.0 technology being used effectively in Mexico for tourism promotion?A.- Yes and no. If you look at the Mexican Tourism Ministry, Gloria Guevara(Mexico’s Tourism Minister) has her own Twitter account whereby anyone, in theory, can interact with her without needing appointments. Many other members of the tourism authorities are also using these options. This is a great start. The limitation remains in the big promotion programs such as 'Mexico Routes' which is not interactive. The Web and Web 2.0 should not be used as megaphones. I’d say in Mexico what’s lacking is a ‘grass roots’ movement. By this, I mean people getting together to advance their ‘dream’ projects as a group. If this is done correctly and combined with the use of Web 2.0 technology, then many things can be accomplished.TN.- OK, so let’s say I have a project to promote, I have access to and knowledge of Web 2.0 technology. Is there a ‘best way’ to use this technology for tourism promotion?RM.- If we look beyond the border, we'll see how other countries have taken the leadership role. Take the case of South Africa, where tourism officials are actively using Web 2.0 technology to broadcast livestreaming coverage of tourism events. The secret, if there is one, is the use of ‘storytelling.'On TripAdviser, people participate by making recommendations, comments, or´tweet’ their friends (groups) about what’s on offer. However, if youhonestly ‘tell the story’ people become interested and interact. Putbluntly, tourism has to be more collaborative. Web 2.0 is collaboration inaction. All you need is a cell phone, take a series of photos and uploadthem to the Internet. The use of this technology is absolutely free!Mexicans are justly proud of their country, but they need to be more vocalabout the pluses. Mexico has ‘Adventures in Nature’ galore, but thepractical details and the inspiring stories need to be told. There are manyforums, symposiums, congresses where people ‘talk’ about creating’sustainable’ projects. Talking is fine, but then you have to act! Likewise,if you're acting, you need to talk about what you've accomplished. Mexicans,South Africans, Estonians, Australians are taking tourism by storm bypreaching what they practice and taking their stories online.TN.- Ron, to close the interview, why don¹t you give us a real-life exampleof a local option for our readers to try when they’re visiting the city ofOaxaca?RM.- Oaxaca is an amazing place, chock-full of a natural and culturaldiversity. To enjoy and experience Oaxaca, slow down. Treat your senses andfill your eyes with beauty. Here are my top five essentials for thosevisiting the capital: Visit the Pochimilco Market on Fridays and Saturdays,find the Virgen de Guadalupe in Conzatti Park, learn how to say 'thank you'or 'delicious' in one of the indigenous languages, participate in a mezcaltreasure hunt (find your favorite variety of the world's best slow drink)and if you take photos of the spectacular trees, upload these pictures to ourFlickr Group TN.- OK. On behalf of the Tianguis News, I’d like to thank you for giving usthe interview Ron, it’s greatly appreciated!RM.- My pleasure, and thanks for the opportunity to speak to your readers!