CREST Newsletter | January - March 2018

The World Travel & Tourism Council recently reported that 2017 was a banner year for international travel. It grew by 4.6 percent, which was 50 percent more than the global economy as a whole. It also created seven million, or one in every five, new jobs. In fact, it was the fastest-growing economic sector worldwide, beating out manufacturing, agriculture, and financial services. Good news, right? Not necessarily. Higher profits aren't always distributed appropriately, and millions of people are still working for barely livable wages. Which is why CREST , focused on transforming the way the world travels, is working hard to help destination communities strike a balance. This newsletter will catch you up on how we've been doing that these past three months.


Travel to Cuba: A Bumpy Road, But We're Still on Course

When we last reported on CREST’S travel-to-Cuba advocacy efforts, the U.S. State Department was preparing to unveil a new travel advisory system we feared would continue to dissuade U.S. citizens from visiting the island nation. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened, but the coalition CREST spearheads—alongside journalists, tour operators, academia, and Cuba experts—has made a concerted effort, these past three months, to defuse the effects of the Trump administration’s policies. The aim is to emphasize the importance travel plays in establishing Cuba as a sustainable destination and facilitating meaningful exchanges between Cubans and Americans.

The following is a timeline breakdown of CREST’s work on this ongoing issue these past three months:

  • On January 10, the State Department announced a new travel advisory system, rating countries from 1 to 4, 1 for “exercise normal precautions,” 4 for “do not travel.” Cuba has been given a Level 3, or “reconsider travel,” designation, “due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff,” according to the department’s website.
  • Members of the travel-to-Cuba coalition, including CREST’s Martha Honey and Rich Shea, met with three State Department officials in Washington, D.C., on January 12, to inquire about the new system and protest recent U.S. policies. One big takeaway—a reduction in staff at a U.S. Embassy automatically triggers a Level 3 or 4 rating, both the equivalent of the old Travel Warning.
  • A week after the meeting, the coalition sent a formal letter to the State Department, requesting, among other things, that Cuba’s rating be lowered to Level 2, for “exercise increased caution.” We also asked that its website provide these details about the health incidents: that they took place in certain parts of Havana, nowhere else in the country; there have been no health incidents reported since August 2017; and the Level 3 rating is due to the embassy drawdown, not health threats to civilian visitors.
  • It’s worth noting that, since January, many press articles have been published questioning claims that the health incidents were caused by “attacks,” sonic or otherwise. Particularly notable are: this in-depth piece from ProPublica; a medical study of effected embassy personnel published in the Journal or the American Medical Association; and, most recently, a thoroughly reported piece in The Nation by longtime journalist Peter Kornbluh (who also hosts trips to Cuba for that magazine) titled, “What the US Government is Not Telling You About Those ‘Sonic Attacks’ in Cuba.” Peter, by the way, is a member of the travel-to-Cuba coalition.
  • When members of the coalition met with State Department officials in January, they could only share anecdotal evidence that, since June 2016, when President Trump announced he’d be rolling back a loosening of travel and business restrictions against Cuba, U.S. policies were negatively impacting travel to that country. So, in January, CREST sent a survey to more than 150 U.S. tour operators and heard back from 42. A press release, distributed to journalists February 14, included a link to key findings, among them the following: 85 percent of respondents saw a greater decline in bookings/increase in cancellations in the second half of 2017, compared to the first half; 66 percent have had cancelations from travel partners in 2017/2018; and not one received reports from their travelers to Cuba that they’d suffered symptoms similar to those of the affected U.S. Embassy staff.
  • Two weeks later, we sent out another press release, this one announcing that more than 30 tour operators and educational travel organizations had signed a petition CREST circulated, requesting that the State Department lower the Cuba advisory to at least a 2 and re-staff the U.S. Embassy in Havana. This was in anticipation of a six-month deadline the department had to meet to decide whether to re-staff the embassy in Havana or reassign its employees elsewhere.
  • The State Department decided, on March 2, that it would not re-staff but instead put in place a permanent staffing plan, enabling the embassy, as it stated, to “continue to operate with the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions.” It did not comment on the Cuba travel advisory, which remains at Level 3.
  • This decision is, of course, unacceptable, as it does not take into account the need for a larger staff in Havana, in part to process U.S. visa applications for Cubans, who, currently, must travel to Colombia to do so. And the State Department’s travel advisory page for Cuba continues to focus on the “attacks.” So Martha Honey has written an op-ed focused, specifically, on reducing the advisory from a 3 to a 2, possibly even a 1. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald, a newspaper of record on issues Cuban and Cuban-American.

50 Years' Worth of Wisdom: Helping Cuba Manage Cruise Arrivals

The CREST study of “lessons learned” from 50 years of large-scale cruise tourism will be officially released April 27, 2018, during an event in Havana, Cuba. Ediciones Temas, one of Cuba’s leading publishing houses, is releasing the Spanish edition as an e-book entitled, Por el Mar de las Antillas: 50 años de turismo de cruceros en el Caribe.

The study, co-authored by CREST executive director Martha Honey, CREST consultant Jannelle Wilkins, and two Cuban academics, Rafael Betancourt and Jose Luis Perello, focuses mainly on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of cruise tourism on destinations in the Caribbean. It also contains a chapter on historic cities, with a focus on Barcelona and Venice. Included is an in-depth analysis of the history of cruise tourism in Cuba and recommendations for how the island nation might manage its newly introduced, and rapidly expanding, cruise tourism sector in order to maximize the benefits for destinations.

Research for the study began in September 2016 and involved more than a dozen researchers in various countries. The study was financed with grants from the Ford and Christopher Reynolds foundations. The Friday, April 27, invitation-only event, during which the four authors will make short presentations, will take place on the terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana from 3 to 5 p.m. Anyone who is interested in attending should contact Rafael Betancourt at rbetancourt3114@gmail.com.

If you’re interested in ordering a copy of the e-book, contact Martha Honey at mhoney@responsibletravel.org. CREST plans to release an English language version of the cruise study later in 2018.


Our Travel Auctions: 2017's Successes & 2018's Outlook

Image Source: Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort & Nature Reserve

Each year, CREST hosts four travel auctions featuring donated packages from responsible-travel-oriented companies. These auctions are critical to meeting CREST’s budget each year, and thanks to the success of 2017’s auctions, we were able to add two new employees to CREST’s team and host 10 student interns. As good as 2017 was for our auctions, we need to maintain the momentum in 2018 to continue funding our research, internal programs, and operations as a nonprofit.

Helping us start 2018 off with a bang, the following inspirational companies contributed to our Valentine’s Day Travel Auction: Amerian Portal del Iguazú Hotel, Diamond M Ranch Resort, El Albergue Ollantaytambo, Emerson Inn, Ka’ana Resort, Kinondo Kwetu, La Selva Amazon Ecolodge & Spa, Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort & Nature Reserve*, LooLa Adventure Resort, Marble Distilling Company/The Distillery Inn, Nayara Resort, Spa & Gardens, Soneva Kiri*, Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge, The Benjamin, UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa, and Yacutinga Lodge.

A tremendous THANK YOU!

* Included on the list are two CREST Platinum Sponsors, companies committed to sponsoring CREST auctions for a total of five years, offering both high-quality and sustainably-oriented travel products. Soneva Kiri is located in the Maldives, Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort & Nature Reserve, our newest Platinum Sponsor, in Guatemala. Long-term commitments like these make our work at CREST much more fruitful, as they allow us to spend less time on fundraising and more time on fulfilling our mission to transform the way the world travels.

Will your travel company join us in our next auction, set for May 15-29? Contact CREST managing director Samantha Bray at sbray@responsibletravel.org for details. Trip agreements are due by May 1.


Save the Date: 2018 World Tourism Day Forum

Do you want to help solve the problem of “overtourism,” in which the world’s most popular destinations are being negatively impacted by excessive amounts of visitors? The Center for Responsible Travel is proud to announce that overtourism will be the theme of our 2018 World Tourism Day Forum, in partnership with the George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies. The forum will take place Thursday, September 27, in Washington, D.C., and feature speakers from a variety of destinations grappling with overtourism. Attendees will also have the chance to participate in interactive discussions on actionable solutions. Stay tuned for more information.


Progress on Many Fronts: An Update from Chihuahua

Now in its fourth year, CREST’s project to develop Rarámuri Tourism Experiences with two indigenous communities overlooking the spectacular Copper Canyon is continuing at an accelerated pace. Two central focuses this year are working with the communities of Huetosachi and Bacajipare to strengthen the quality and sustainability of their new tours and to market the tours to tour operators, hoteliers, and others via brochures, signage, a revamped website, and familiarization (FAM) trips.

In late January, Ximena Alvis, CREST’s first project director, and CREST’s executive director, Martha Honey, visited the Chihuahua-based project, along with Mauricio Miramontes, executive director of our partner organization Mano del Mono. A main purpose of this visit was to officially turn over the CREST leadership to Daniela Ramirez, the newly hired director, who replaces Ximena, who has moved to Australia. Ramirez, a tour operator and anthropologist from the United States who is married to a Rarámuri, lives in Creel, the main tourism town closest to Copper Canyon. She and Laura Barragan, who has been serving as the local project assistant, held in-depth discussions with the CREST leadership to ensure a smooth transition.

The visit included a FAM (familiarization) trip with local hoteliers and tour operators who hiked in the Canyon with the CREST-trained guides from Bacajipare and participated in cooking and handicraft demonstrations with the women in Huetosachi. The project organizers also had productive meetings in Creel with the Christensen Foundation program officer, Tatiana Amor, and in Chihuahua city with CONTEC, CREST’s local NGO partner. The community members involved in the project were also able to thank Ximena for her years of caring support in building these unique and authentic tourism products.

Since then, Daniela Ramirez, as the new CREST director, has worked swiftly to familiarize herself with the project, the communities, and all the key allies and partners in the area.  In late February, the two communities hosted another successful FAM trip for nine local guides, hoteliers, and tour operators, who enthusiastically agreed to become allies in promoting these community-based tours. As one hotelier from the area of Areponapuchi commented, “I really like the experience and see it as an opportunity for us (locals) to support the Rarámuri people.” 

Daniela and Laura have worked with the community leaders to determine the locations for the new signs designed to advertise Rarámuri Tourism Experiences and mark the trails for guided hikes. They also assisted the community leaders in new administrative tasks, such as tracking tour income and training on cell phone use for reservations and social media. They finalized the newly updated brochures and promotional materials, which are scheduled to go to the printers soon. And, over recent months, both communities have begun to receive tourists.

In February and March, Daniela, along with representatives from both communities, visited 10 hotels in Creel and Areponapuchi to promote Rarámuri Tourism Experiences. They made presentations to hotel staff, and managers’ responses were positive. The hoteliers were impressed to hear directly from the Rarámuri guides, and the discussions were very productive for both the community members and the hoteliers.

During two community meetings in February, Daniela and Laura also presented the project’s 2018 work plan to locals. It was a great opportunity to set expectations; hear any concerns, comments, and opinions; and establish the pace for subsequent work throughout the year. The Huetosachi kitchen experience, for example, urgently needed clean drinking water on site, so the CREST organizers assisted the local women in applying for rainwater systems with filters from a local agency. By March, the project was in the first phase of installing the rainwater systems, which will benefit no only the kitchen, but more than 20 family homes as well.  

Finally, the website for the Rarámuri Tourism Experiences is being revamped. Please visit the site and watch for the changes. Lots of other plans are in the works, and we look forward to updating you.


Urgent: Help Save The Lodge at Pico Bonito

Tourism and investment community, we need your help. CREST has had the pleasure of knowing and working with The Lodge at Pico Bonito, a buffer to Pico Bonito National Park, in Honduras, for many years. Pico Bonito has always been a strong proponent for responsible travel, using its position as a tourism company to lead conservation efforts of the area’s natural environment, including all five local wildcats, jaguars among them. Read about Pico Bonito's Conservation Impact here. Recognizing the greater role of responsible travel in the world, Pico Bonito has even contributed to CREST’s fundraising auctions.

It has come to our attention that after almost two decades of operations the owners can no longer maintain this eco-tourism business, and plans are being made to close the lodge in April. That means the wildlife and natural environment now protected by Pico Bonito will be in jeopardy. Pico Bonito is a staple of Honduran travel, and the reason many tourists visit the country. Its closing would be a devastating blow for conservation and tourism in Honduras.

The owners of the lodge have told us that they believe the lodge can be saved and are willing to work toward this goal if new investors can be found. A concerned tour operator who frequents Pico Bonito, Kevin Loughlin of Wildside Nature Tours, is working to put together a board of management that could head up a non-profit opportunity to keep the lodge in place. Both funding and expertise are needed in this endeavor, which needs to happen quickly. If you have any leads, please contact Kevin at kevin@wildsidetoursinc.com


CREST Shares Its Expertise

Meeting the Press: A Media Showcase in New York City

While those in the sustainable tourism field are, at the very least, acquainted with CREST, the mainstream media knows little, if any, about our efforts. To help remedy this situation, Alice Marshall, a CREST board member and founder/president of Alice Marshall Public Relations (AMPR), invited CREST to attend “The Whole Self,” AMPR’s wellness-focused 2018 client showcase in New York City, Jan. 29-30.

Representing CREST was its director of communications, Rich Shea, who, during the showcase—attended by more than 100 journalists—shared details of CREST’s vital work around the globe. The reporters included those working for luxury-travel magazines and news agencies like The New York Times, Condé Nast, and GQ. Rich was also able to network and share information with representatives from roughly 20 of AMPR’s clients, resorts and hotels in destinations as far-flung as Morocco and Japan.

The following day, AMPR hosted an excellent media-panel seminar focused on digital storytelling. The headliner was Sree Sreenivasan, a social media guru who shared tips on how best to use digital media—on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among other platforms—to promote an organization’s “brand” and attract and keep “followers.” Storytelling, he made clear, is the best vehicle for doing all these things.

Making Sense of the Cuban Situation

One of the most recent travel professionals to join CREST’s board is Andrea Holbrook, CEO of Holbrook Travel, which has hosted trips to Cuba for years. Because recent U.S. policies have caused confusion among travelers, she felt it was time to put together a webinar on the subject. So, on March 8, Holbrook Travel hosted the hour-long webinar “Cuba Travel—Understanding the Latest Guidelines.” For about 15 minutes each, Andrea covered the tour operator’s angle while Rich Shea, CREST’s director of communications, covered CREST’s and the travel-to-Cuba coalition's advocacy efforts. Their presentations were followed by Q&A, with the questions submitted by those tuned into the seminar.

The overarching message, of course, is that travel to Cuba is both safe and legal, so long as a traveler’s itinerary falls under one of the 12 legal categories established by the U.S. government. Rich pointed out that now may be the best time to visit Cuba, considering the current tensions between the two countries’ governments. “You can do what our government is failing to do,” he said, “which is, establish meaningful, long-lasting ties with the people of Cuba.”    

A Close Look at the Sharing Economy: CREST Presents in Guyana

Each year, the Organization of American States (OAS) convenes an Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-Level Authorities of Tourism to discuss the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the industry within the Americas. 2018 saw the 24th iteration of this meeting, March 21-22, hosted in Georgetown, Guyana. The theme of the meeting, organized in partnership with the Government of Guyana, was “Connecting the Americas Through Sustainable Tourism,” which prompted lively, forward-thinking discussions among the distinguished country representatives and invited experts.

CREST managing director Samantha Bray was invited to speak about impacts of the sharing economy on the accommodation sector as part of a panel discussion entitled “Importance of Product Innovation in Connecting the Americas.” Bray shared statistics about sharing economy accommodations in the Caribbean and Latin America, with a specific focus on Airbnb. She also discussed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of sharing economy accommodation options to further inform destination strategy. 

CREST is planning to conduct a study of the sharing economy in the Caribbean and/or Latin America, looking at quantifying impacts on small and medium-sized hotels. We are currently seeking three partner destinations to work with us on this project. If your destination is interested, please contact Samantha at sbray@responsibletravel.org.


GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training: DC and Online Courses

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) will offer a training class in Washington, D.C., June 13-14, 2018. The training is designed for professionals engaged in sustainable tourism, providing the knowledge and resources needed to improve sustainability practices for businesses and destinations. By completing this training, participants will also have the opportunity to qualify for the GSTC Certificate in Sustainable Tourism. Through CREST's partnership with the GSTC, CREST members and subscribers can join this class (or one of the upcoming GSTC online courses, for those outside of the D.C. area) at a reduced rate. Please see more information on the training options below.

You can apply the discount code CREST18 when signing up for any of the above training courses, and you will receive $40 off your registration. If you have any question or need further information, please contact Ayako Ezaki, Training Director, GSTC at training@gstcouncil.org


New Partnerships: Travel Unity & Na'atik

Diversity and Inclusion: the Travel Unity Survey

Are you a travel industry professional or academic? We are partnering with the nonprofit Travel Unity to distribute this questionnaire on issues of diversity and inclusion in the travel industry. You can contribute to the survey anonymously, and it shouldn't take more than two minutes. The results will help Travel Unity learn more about the current climate on these issues. Completed questionnaires are due by March 31, and answers will be compiled for release at the 6th Annual New York Travel Festival. We encourage you to share the link with colleagues.

Hands-On Learning Opportunities in Mexico

CREST recently launched a partnership with Na’atik, a fantastic non-profit language school and cultural institute in Mexico. Na’atik is located in the small, colorful town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto in the heart of the stunning Yucatán Peninsula, an hour south of Tulum. Its name comes from the Maya expression “To’on Na’atik,” meaning, “We’re understanding each other.” The school’s founders believe that cross-cultural exchange is the key to true understanding. They welcome study-abroad groups and provide a unique, engaging environment for learning. The location is perfect for educators of Latin American studies and language seeking hands-on experience and provides an invaluable opportunity for those hoping to improve their Spanish-language skills. Here you can read about both group and individual study abroad programs, and view sample itineraries #1 and #2. If you have any questions, contact founder Catherine Gray at catherine.gray@naatikmexico.org or communications manager John Pope at communications@naatikmexico.org. And please let them know CREST sent you.


"World's Inspiring Places," a New Video Series, Debuts

If you asked someone whether he or she would like to visit Sierra Gorda, the answer would probably be something like, “Sierra what?” 

Gorda. It’s a region in central Mexico marked by rugged terrain, steep mountains, and breathtaking canyon views. It’s also home to a highly successful conservation project, which makes it a fitting subject for the pilot episode of a new short-form video series, World’s Inspiring Places.

A joint project of the Destination Stewardship Center (DSC), a CREST affiliate, and Erika Gilsdorf, owner and producer of South Shore Productions, the series is intended to serve as a showcase for destination stewardship successes. Here’s a trailer for the pilot, which features the work of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda:

“For me,” says Gilsdorf, “the concept behind World’s Inspiring Places probably started the day I found myself yelling at a tourist to stop standing on the coral. I’d had enough of overcrowded destinations making a buck at the expense of nature. It was time for me to focus on places that were doing something right.”

For the series, that means places where people are working to help preserve the cultural and natural heritage of a destination while creating unique travel experiences that support and build on that heritage. The plan is to have the videos link tourism and stewardship by portraying these efforts through travelers’ eyes. In the pilot, for example, two millennial hosts enjoy exploring Sierra Gorda as they learn about Grupo Ecológico’s work.

The idea is to provide travelers and other destinations with examples of good stewardship. DSC director Jonathan Tourtellot sums up the Sierra Gorda story this way: “By working closely both with the local rural population, many of whom live at subsistence level, Grupo Ecológico has helped protect a wide variety of natural habitats while gradually making northeastern Querétaro into a scenic paradise for international travelers seeking an authentic Mexican experience.”

You can view the videos on World’s Inspiring Place’s YouTube channel. There are three Sierra Gorda versions:

If you subscribe to the channel, you’ll have access to additional videos, including several about shooting the pilot.

“Pilot,” of course, means the partners are hoping to create more videos. The DSC is now seeking candidate destinations for new success stories. To ensure objectivity, destinations do not pay for the videos; the series looks instead for external support free from conflicts of interest. In the case of Sierra Gorda, generous support was provided by Freightliner.The DSC is now offering a continuing sponsorship opportunity for the series.

If you have a proposal for the next World’s Inspiring Places, please see the DSC page on how to apply. For sponsorships, high-resolution versions of the videos, or additional questions, contact the DSC to begin a conversation.

For more on the Sierra Gorda and the video project, see blog posts by Tourtellot on National Geographic Voices and the DSC website.


CREST Hires a New Program Associate

We're excited to announce that Kelsey Frenkiel, who served as a fall 2017 intern at CREST, has been hired on as a program associate. Originally from New Jersey, Kelsey received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary in 2016, and her master’s degree in primate conservation from Oxford Brookes University in 2017. As a student, she had many diverse experiences. She did archaeological field work in Tahiti, restored antique maps at a historical home in New Jersey, analyzed oyster shell and fish bones from the Chesapeake Bay, and planned social media campaigns at the Jane Goodall Institute in Washington, D.C., and in Belgium. She also sought out new digital-engagement initiatives at The Phillips Collection in D.C., interviewed ecotourists in Indonesia, and ghostwrote for an editor-at-large at National Geographic magazine.

While interning at CREST, Kelsey helped destination communities thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity under the direction of her wonderful mentors. As program associate, primarily she will support our consultancy and field work projects, research and prepare publications related to responsible travel, and seek out funding opportunities for the organization. She is now happily looking forward to hard work mingled with some side projects and a lot of travel in between.  


Welcome, Spring Interns!

At CREST, we are inspired and encouraged, time and time again, by the caliber of students and young professionals who walk through our doors to study responsible travel with us. This spring, we welcome four such individuals:

  • Gabriela Cicenia: Originally from Ecuador, Gaby is a PhD candidate in international economics and tourism at the University of Valencia (Spain). She spent the spring of 2017 with us and decided she couldn’t get enough, so she is back again!
  • Alexander Hessinger: Born in Pennsylvania and moved, at a young age, to Quito, Ecuador, Alex is pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable development at the School for International Training in Washington, D.C.
  • Soyun Sim: An undergraduate student from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, in Seoul, South Korea, Soyun is double majoring in Spanish and political science. A study abroad trip to Mexico inspired her deep interest in responsible travel.
  • Nicole Whiting: After spending her childhood in the tourism-dependent states of Alaska and California, Nicole is currently pursuing a degree in tourism management at the University of South Carolina.

    To learn more about our interns, please visit our team page.

A Summer with Plato

One of our interns, Alex Hessinger, delved into Greek philosophy as a youngster. So when he was old enough to travel on his own, Greece was at the top of his destination list. While the islands certainly inspired him, their handling of tourism did not. Read how Plato, in particular, helped him begin to come up with sustainable solutions.


Travelers' Philanthropy Internship Opportunity on Cape Cod

Attention, students: Are you from Cape Cod, or would you like to spend the summer there? This may be the internship for you. A CREST-sponsored project launched in 2012, CARE (Creating A Responsible Environment) for the Cape and Islands, is working to involve visitors and residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket in preserving and protecting its natural and cultural assets. Through education and incubated projects it funds with grants, CARE seeks to inspire stewardship for the region’s long-term sustainability. CARE is looking for an intern who will work at least 10 hours per week and assist with marketing and promotional efforts and provide general support for CARE programming. Applications are rolling, but CARE hopes to fill the position by April 15. Learn more about the position here. Questions? Please contact Jill Talladay at jill@careforthecapeandislands.org.


Platinum Sponsor Q&As: Hotel El Ganzo and Bodhi Surf School

We love our Platinum Sponsors. They promise, for five years in a row, to support our fundraising travel auctions by donating amazing tour packages. Plus, they practice sustainability from top to bottom. This issue's Q&As feature Hotel El Ganzo, in Los Cabos, Mexico, and Bodhi Surf & Yoga, in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica. We let them do the talking here:

Hotel El Ganzo

Hotel El Ganzo, located in Los Cabos, Mexico, is a truly unique establishment—more of a “headspace,” as its founder once said, than a hotel. It is also a Platinum Sponsor of the Center for Responsible Travel, meaning that, for five years in row, it’s donating tour packages to the travel auctions that raise funds for CREST’s research and operations. In the Q&A below, El Ganzo’s general manager, Ella Messerli, shares just how unique, and sustainable, the hotel is.

What’s the story behind El Ganzo’s name?
Our founder, the late Pablo Sanchez-Navarro, always said: “El Ganzo is an invitation for the irreverent, the artist, musician, the filmmaker, the rebellious and explorers. While El Ganzo is a unique, distinctive place to stay, it’s far more than a hotel: it is a headspace.” His concept was that visitors make their own experiences, as did Hunter S. Thompson, who created Gonzo journalism, where the experience is personal. Unfortunately, that name is registered, so Pablo fell back on “the goose,” an animal that impressed him as a child, when he had seen one face other animals in a braver way than expected. El Ganzo is “the goose,” but with a Z to refer to Gonzo.

The hotel was designed by multiple architects, correct?
The architects of record are HKS, from Dallas. However, Pablo personally worked with them on the design of the building and selected each piece, texture, and shape of the décor. His concept was to use as much recycled materials as possible. So the wood used for room doors, headboards, and furniture is mainly from recycled planks of the original construction. They were reworked with special tones and softness for a warm feel.

The website’s “about” page says El Ganzo “prizes creativity, originality, and service.” In what ways?
I would go back to Pablo’s manifesto: “El Ganzo is not the scripted hotel experience. It’s an experiential trip unto itself.” And because we have an artist-in-residence program, the resort is ever-changing. You can come back in six months and new artwork will appear on what were white walls, a new unplugged-style video of a visiting musician will be playing on your TV, you can plant salads with the local children at our Community Center, and so on. There is no repeating formula at El Ganzo; the guests decide their experiences.

How does Hotel El Ganzo engage with the local community?
In 2015, local artist Francois Paris kickstarted a free art program at a local art gallery, resulting in a great success. But soon the children and Francois were left without a space, so we decided to team up and build a Community Center in an empty lot across the street from El Ganzo. It’s a space where the local community can come together to explore endless creative opportunities.

We wanted to create a bridge between local children, visitors, and artists through an interactive process of art and music. Francois teaches the kids every other day after school, and our artists in residence also participate. Guests often participate in these classes and help with our permaculture garden.

Also, right in front of El Ganzo is the fisherman’s station, established when the hotel opened so that they can weigh, fillet, and prepare their fresh catches, which El Ganzo purchases from them.

In what ways is the hotel both sustainable and environmentally friendly?
Many sustainable practices have been implemented since the hotel’s inception, and more are added every year. Just to mention a few, when it comes to energy, the rooftop pool is heated with solar panels. And with water usage, the laundry soap is a Nopal Cactus-based product that saves us 80 percent of water and 70 percent of electricity. And because it’s natural, it extends the life of linens and uniforms by 250 percent.

With regard to waste, every room is equipped with a BPA-free water bottle guests can carry around and refill at the hotel’s many refill stations, significantly lowering the use of plastic. Food waste is turned into compost, and if you can´t finish a meal, we pack goody bags with containers made of natural plant fibers.

Also, every guestroom is equipped with an iPad as our service directory. No El Ganzo employee uses a business card; only electronic business cards are emailed or airdropped to clients. We have no printed brochures, but will gladly give you a USB stocked with images, PDFs, and videos. And, internally, all paperwork is digitally signed and distributed via Slack (a team workplace and communications center).

Our herb and vegetable garden—containing a variety of organic herbs, microgreens, and vegetables—is used by our chef in daily cooking. This reduces the CO2 emissions and brings “local” to our doorstep. Our partnership with Huerta Los Tamarindos, a neighboring organic farm, provides us with fresh produce.

Aside from being CREST Platinum Sponsor, we’re also a member of Kind Traveler, a for-profit hotel booking platform that donates a portion of its clients’ fees to local charities. We’ve registered El Ganzo Community Center as a charity recipient.

Tell us about your staff.
The staff is a melting pot of Mexican states. Of course, there are locals, especially from La Playita, where we are located, but in general, Los Cabos has grown so much that many have arrived from all over the country. Their anchor and common link is El Ganzo, and we have continuously promoted from within to help them grow in the hotel business.

The most impactful event was most likely Hurricane Odile just over three years ago. It did considerable damage. But the hotel opened its doors and fed not only employees and their families, but the local community. Being an independent hotel has also permitted the staff to actively contribute to operational improvements, thus strengthening their sense of commitment to our project.

Bodhi Surf & Yoga

It makes a lot of sense. Costa Rica, the beach, surfing. Now throw yoga into the mix, and you have Bodhi Surf + Yoga, which offers week-long camps mixing both, plus immersion in the surrounding community. Founder Travis Bays recently explained how he and his partners came up with the idea for Bodhi Surf + Yoga, which is a CREST Platinum Sponsor, and the ways in which it benefits its home of Bahia Ballena.

What is Bodhi’s origin story?
Bodhi was started in 2010 by four friends who wanted to live outside the box, share their passions with others, and make a positive difference in the world. Travis Bays and Gibran Garcia were University of San Diego students who met during a study abroad program in Spain and stayed in touch post-college. Travis joined the Peace Corp and was placed in Bahia Ballena, Osa, Costa Rica—a small community in a pristine area of the world. Gibran visited Travis in 2006, and they discussed starting a surf school.

Fast forward four years. Travis had met and married Pilar, a San Jose native and yoga teacher, and Gibran had met and married Adrianne, a British Columbian who was falling in love with surfing. In creating Bodhi, they combined what they loved, surfing and yoga, and eventually realized the two were very complementary activities.

What kind of vacation experiences do you offer?

Bodhi offers community-engaged surf and yoga camps that facilitate learning by exposure to the people and environment of the place. Guests learn a great deal not only about surfing and yoga, but also the environment and the community. They also feel very at home at the lodge—among the owners and staff and other guests. We’ve fostered a sense of community and sharing. So they’re not only disconnecting from their normal lives, and doing something different for a week—they’re inspired to make positive changes in their lives after they return home.

In what ways do you immerse visitors in the life of Bahia Ballena?
We’re located in the heart of Bahia Ballena, and on the first day, guests participate in a community walking tour with local guides during which they learn about Bahia Ballena and Costa Rica, including the history, culture, flora, and fauna. Bodhi is also not an all-inclusive resort, so guests spend more time in the community, purchasing food from farmers and supermarkets and eating at local restaurants. When the opportunity arises, guests can partake in community service projects, such as Semilla de Ballena, a coastal reforestation program.

The website says Bodhi is “built on an ethos of social and environmental responsibility.” Please explain.
When we started, we had three main goals: 1) share what we are passionate and knowledgeable about; 2) affect positive change in both local and global communities; and 3) make a living by doing what we love. So social and environmental responsibility wasn’t something we added later; it was there from the start. But back then, our capacity was much smaller. So we started with “Service and Surf Saturday” events, using our skills and equipment for educational purposes to benefit local youth.

As we’ve grown, and our reach has widened, so too have our corporate responsibility measures. We now have a variety of projects and initiatives, including our: Travelers’ Philanthropy Program; Ocean Guardian Pledge, Digest and Contest; Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Coalition and Semilla de Ballena reforestation project; and, most recently, the commitment to go Carbon Neutral in 2018.

In what ways has CREST influenced Bodhi?
CREST inspired us to start a Travelers Philanthropy Program, examine our business model through the lens of executive director Martha Honey’s 7 Characteristics of Ecotourism, and cultivate new relationships within the tourism industry. CREST also invited us to speak at the 3rd Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism in St. George's, Grenada, in 2014. That helped position Bodhi as an example of a responsible marine tour operator. We’ve also used CREST’s film The Goose with the Golden Eggs to present and discuss tourism models’ impacts to more than 500 youths from all over the world.

And you co-wrote a chapter in our latest book, Marine Tourism, Climate Change, and Resilience in the Caribbean, Vol. II.
Yes. We wrote about our best practices as a surf-and-yoga camp and how we address climate change through partnerships with local and global organizations. We had a lot of fun sharing what we do via the book and hope our case inspires others.

This past hurricane season was tough for the Caribbean. What lessons can we learn from it?
That we all—individuals, businesses, and other organizations—need to step up and take an assertive stance on climate change. There will be no simple solutions, but the time to start is now. We cannot wait for governments to solve these issues because they may act too slowly or not at all. People can reduce their own carbon output, support businesses that make environmental issues a top priority, and take part in civic engagement to demand change at local and national levels. Companies can work environmental responsibility into every aspect of their businesses by, for example, reducing their environmental impacts, reinvesting in environmental rehabilitation projects, and lobbying governments.

What does it mean to have B Corporation certification?
There’s now official, third-party oversight and verification that Bodhi’s work is having positive effects on our workers, community, society, and environment. For years, we haven’t been shy about telling our story, but we believe it’s more transparent, and legitimate, to have official certification that’s difficult to achieve. We are very proud to be recipients of 2017 Best for the World accolade in the category of community. We’re now in the ranks of those businesses we looked up to and emulated for years. And we’re supported by our B Corp community, which inspires us to do even better each passing year. 


CREST Milestones 2003 - 2017

CREST's annual publication provides readers with snapshots of the previous year's work as well as those of years past, going all the way back to our founding. To take a look at the 2017 version, click here.


CREST in the News

  • March 18, 2019: Travel Philanthropy.” This comprehensive piece describes the titular subject matter as “a new niche, with travelers integrating philanthropic experiences and even volunteer work into their itinerary.” CREST’s managing director, Samantha Bray (née Hogenson), seconds that, adding, “All over the world, travelers and travel companies are giving financial resources, time, and talent to further the wellbeing of local communities. This emerging movement is helping to support and empower local and indigenous communities by providing jobs, skills, and lasting improvements in health care, education, and environmental stewardship.”
  • March 2, 2018:U.S. Decision to Permanently Reduce Cuba Embassy Staff Draws Swift Reaction.” Among those reacting to the State Department’s announcement was Martha Honey, executive director of CREST, who suggested that this “new normal” might open the door for lowering Cuba’s Level 3 advisory (the equivalent of the old Travel Warning) to a more reasonable, and less intimidating, Level 2. (For more on this issue, see “Travel to Cuba,” above).
  • March 2, 2018:Fatal Lion Mauling Highlights Controversy of Private Reserves.” A woman’s death in South Africa heightened ongoing concerns about safety measures, or the lack thereof, in private game reserves. CREST’s executive director, Martha Honey, pulled no punches in attributing blame to those responsible for creating an environment in which wild animals have access to human visitors without proper safety precautions put in place. She told the reporter: “We need more carefully developed, agreed upon protocols for private reserves that parallel what has been developed for national parks.”
  • January 7, 2018:Time to Reconsider Value of Cruise Tourism.” One business sector seemingly unaffected by recent U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba is the cruise industry, which continues to ramp up the number of ships being sent to Havana. But back in November, Martha Honey, CREST’s executive director, presented a “lessons learned” study at the United Nations World Tourism Organization conference in Jamaica, pointing out that “because land-based stopover tourism is far more valuable than cruise tourism, governments would be wise to invest in strengthening sustainable long-stay tourism,” this article states. Ways in which to do so are shared in this piece. 
  • January 4, 2018:After a Plane Crash, Questions About Travel in Costa Rica.” The death of an American family in a charter flight crash in Costa Rica over the holidays raised alarms about the dangers of various modes of tourism transportation abroad. CREST’s executive director, Martha Honey, helped put the crash in perspective by suggesting alternative means of travel and emphasizing the need to vet reliable tour operators.

 


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