As 2017, the UN's International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, draws to a close, CREST is busier than ever supporting destination communities worldwide. These past three months have been jam-packed with projects, ranging from advocating for U.S. travel to Cuba to preparing a Middle East country's responsible-travel upgrades. But there's much more to share, so take a look at the teasers below, which are linked to articles demonstrating how CREST continues to transform the way the world travels.
When it comes to U.S. relations with Cuba, a lot can happen in three months. In our last newsletter, we reported that, thanks to a State Department-imposed Travel Warning against U.S. travel to Cuba, CREST was planning to convene a mid-October meeting with a group of representatives from tourism companies, NGOs, and universities involved in travel and educational activities in Cuba. Well, we did just that, on October 16, and since then, we’ve been spearheading a concerted effort to protest recent U.S. actions and educate the public on just how safe and relatively easy travel to Cuba still is.
Thus far, here’s what we’ve done:
But we have our work cut out for us. In the wake of the U.S. government’s actions, including the latest set of restrictions announced by the Trump administration on November 8, the general public’s perception about travel to Cuba is skewed. Many feel it’s now unsafe, others that it’s illegal. Continued ignorance on these issues will: a) harm the travel industry, including Cuban citizens invested in tourism-related businesses; and b) derail the potential for goodwill exchanges between Cubans and Americans.
The Cuba Travel Advocacy Coalition’s end goal is to convince the U.S. Congress and, eventually, the Trump administration to rescind the latest restrictions including the Travel Warning, so that the United States and Cuba can return to a normalization of relations.
Seeing as travel to Cuba is still safe and legal, we’d like to know how many people are interested in traveling there with CREST in 2018. Just so you know, we’ve already hosted three highly successful trips to the island, and our partner there, Cuba Educational Travel, is a premiere, U.S.-approved tour operator providing access to a variety of cultural, artistic, and educational experiences. We invite you to show your interest in a trip to Cuba by filling out this form.
This past hurricane season was devastating. In addition to the severe storm damage in Florida and Texas, roughly a dozen Caribbean islands were hit so hard by storms Irma and Maria that recovery efforts will continue far into the new year, if not longer. One thing is certain: Climate change is a reality and coastal and island communities must “build back better” in order to become more climate-resilient.
Fortunately, CREST can help. This month, Business Expert Press published CREST’s fourth, and final, volume in a series of books focused on climate change and coastal and marine tourism in the Caribbean. The final volume is entitled Marine Tourism, Climate Change, and Resilience in the Caribbean, Volume II: Recreation, Yachts, and Cruise Ships. Essays and case studies authored by 13 experts cover a range of topics and, as the introduction states, consider “the impacts these sectors are having on the region’s environment and what steps individual companies or advocacy groups are taking to minimize these impacts.”
The CREST series—whose recommendations can be applied outside of the Caribbean—has been two and a half years in the making. During a July 2015 Think Tank on Climate Change co-hosted by CREST in Puntacana in the Dominican Republic, attendees unanimously agreed that a publication focused on coastal and marine tourism in an era of climate change should be produced as a tool for public education. Four slim volumes, featuring dozens of authors covering the theme inside-out, is the tool they envisioned.
To check out and/or purchase individual volumes or the entire series, please visit the web page of our co-publisher, Business Expert Press. Those who’ve read this piece can qualify for a 15 percent discount by using the code: SAMDEC17. It’s good through January 31, 2018.
Up and Running: A Great Start for an Indigenous Tourism Operation in Chihuahua
In late October, Ximena Alvis, a CREST field coordinator, and Mauricio Miramontes, from our partnering organization Mano del Mono, traveled to Chihuahua to prepare and host a familiarization, or FAM, trip of Rarámuri community-based tourism offerings for local tour guides and operators. The FAM trip was a success, with more than 20 operators and guides from Creel, Chihuahua, participating and saying they’re interested in selling the experiences offered, as they are unique and of great interest to visitors.
Brochures promoting the experiences were printed and are currently being distributed. There’s also a website for the indigenous tourism operation, which is called Experiencias Turísticas Rarámuri. As part of the promotional efforts, Chihuahua’s Secretary of Tourism invited community representatives, Mauricio, and Ximena to participate in meetings with tour operators from Chihuahua and Juarez. During the meetings, Maria Monarca and Isabel Monarca, Huetosachi community leaders and principals in the Experiencias enterprise, conducted a presentation about its tourism offerings and, later, did radio and TV interviews.
Following the FAM trip’s success, Experiencias Turísticas Rarámuri officially opened to the public in December. This is a tremendous milestone, as the local communities and the CREST/Mano del Mono teams have been working hard for three years to make it a reality. To make reservations easier, the operation has a phone number for direct bookings, and local partners will assist as needed.
In other news, we are happy to report that the soon-to-be-vacant position of field coordinator, ably occupied by Ximena Alvis, has been filled by Daniela Ramirez. Daniela is a California native with Mexican heritage and owns a tour operation in Creel, Chihuahua. As an expert in indigenous tourism, she’s also very sensitive to the Rarámuri Culture.
We look forward to welcoming Daniela to the CREST team and working with her to expand the community-based tourism initiatives to a third indigenous community. CREST has enjoyed working with Ximena since 2014, and she will be missed terribly. We wish her well as she embarks on a new adventure in Australia with her husband.
CREST Completes Project with Rock-Hewn Churches in Tigrai, Ethiopia
CREST’s year-long project in Tigrai (or Tigray) province, Ethiopia, reached a successful completion in December. The project, commissioned by the Tigrai Culture and Tourism Bureau and financed by the European Union, undertook the initial steps in the process of inscribing the “Sacred Landscape” and the ancient rock-hewn churches of the Wukro-Gheralta region of Tigrai province on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In addition, the CREST project is part of a multi-year effort to improve and increase international tourism to these exquisite churches.
The project was carried out by two CREST consultants—Lisa Shekede, M.A., from the U.K., who is an international expert on wall painting conservation, and Nilan Coonay, Ph.D., from Sri Lanka, who is an international expert on both conservation of historic buildings and on World Heritage nominations. They have completed three detailed reports based on their field work in Tigrai earlier this year. The reports provide a comprehensive analysis of 17 of the most important rock-hewn churches, including the current state of the buildings and their wall paintings and the conservation steps necessary for their ongoing protection.
The Ethiopian Orthodox rock-hewn churches of the Wukro-Gheralta region were built between the 4th and 15th centuries AD and have remained in continuous use by the surrounding farming communities, their local priests, and visiting pilgrims. Carved into the steep, red sandstone mountains that rise spectacularly from the long Gheralta ridge, many of the churches are extremely difficult to reach. In some cases, access involves climbing vertical surfaces, utilizing hand and footholds in the rock, or walking along narrow ledges with sheer vertical drops below. While largely unadorned and often nearly invisible from the outside, the interiors of many churches contain vivid wall paintings depicting interpretations of the gospel and religious treasures, such as manuscripts, musical instruments, and other sacred objects.
The CREST team, together with local experts, determined that most of the churches they visited are well preserved. They did, however, find some structures and paintings damaged by rainwater seepage and plant growth, as well as inappropriate renovations and newer installations of speakers and electricity. They proposed a range of conservation measures to be carried out with the joint participation of local cultural heritage experts, church priests, and the farming communities.
The scores of churches in the Wukro-Gheralta region are far less known to international travelers than Lalibela’s 11 UNESCO-listed rock-hewn churches, located in the Amhara region. While, by some accounts, the more accessible Lalibela churches are suffering from ‘overtourism’, the Wukro-Gheralta rock-hewn churches are currently among the least known of Ethiopia's major monuments. However, tourism has been increasing and is expected to grow exponentially with World Heritage status. As part of an earlier consultancy, CREST developed the first detailed English-language tourism map for the Gheralta churches and other attractions in this region.
CREST Wins Contract for Sustainable Tourism Master Plan in Oman
CREST, together with two partner firms, has been awarded a contract from Oman’s Ministry of Tourism to produce the Tourism Development Masterplans for South Al Sharqiah Governorate. The project is due to begin in January 2018.
CREST is the lead technical advisor and content provider for most of the “soft” tourism aspects of the project. These include the vision for sustainable tourism development as well as the strategy, policy planning, demand estimation, branding and promotional aspects of the master plan.
CREST has assembled a high-level international team of five consultants, plus staff. These include experts in adventure and nature-based ecotourism, cultural and heritage tourism, archeology, museum design and operations, sustainability criteria and certification, tourism master planning, and marketing and promotion.
The two other consortium partners are Mahindra Consulting Engineers (MACE) of India and Civil Technology Engineering Consultancy (CTEC) of Oman. MACE will concentrate on the physical and infrastructure components of the project while CTEC, with its intimate understanding of local issues, will focus on stakeholder engagements, data collection, and ensuring the project meets the Ministry of Tourism’s expectations.
Oman is quickly emerging as a Middle East leader in sustainable tourism. In December 2017, the country, along with the UNWTO and UNESCO, hosted the final regional conference to mark the UN’s designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The main theme of the conference was “Cultural Values, Diversity and Heritage,” which is one of the five “pillars” identified for the International Year.
The Sultanate of Oman currently has more than 1.5 million tourists per year, and although it has recorded double-digit growth in international tourism arrivals, the numbers are still modest. Oman’s ambitious national Tourism Strategy calls for major tourism investments, creation of more than 500,000 new jobs, and nearly 12 million tourists by 2040. It includes plans to create a system of 14 natural, cultural, and urban tourism clusters, each featuring well-serviced attractions, ample accommodation, a transportation network, infrastructures, and other tourist facilities and services. Two clusters fall in the South Al Sharqiyah Governorate and are designated for development by 2020. These are the eastern coast wadis and Ras al Jinz, described as the “natural jewels” of Oman, and Masirah Island, Oman’s island realm.
The South Sharqiyah region offers year-round natural and cultural tourism attractions, including the sparkling wadis; turtle nesting sites; enchanting coastline with underwater coral forests; Masirah island with beaches, coves and marine life; the famous archaeological sites of Qalhat; popular trekking routes through the jebels, wadis and caves; the boat-building and sea-faring heritage of Sur; and the expansive Wahiba Sands desert.
CREST Undertakes 2nd GSTC Destination Assessment, in Cozumel, Mexico
In November, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) awarded CREST a contract to conduct a destination assessment of Cozumel, Mexico, one of the Caribbean’s leading cruise destinations. The CREST team includes Martha Honey and two Mexico-based tourism experts, Valerie Sera and Kennedy Obombo Magio, who will conduct the destination assessment using the methodology established by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). This assessment is part of an ongoing sustainable tourism project in Cozumel led by a coalition which includes officials from the Cozumel government, WWF, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and GIZ, the German development agency.
Following organizational meetings that took place in November and December, CREST will conduct the desk-and-field-based assessment between January and April 2018. It will conclude with an official GSTC assessment of Cozumel, in Spanish and English, as well as the presentation of an Action Plan aimed at providing a roadmap for implementing specific recommendations from the GSTC assessment over the coming years.
In 2016, CREST conducted a similar GSTC destination assessment in southern Sinaloa state, using these same two experts.
Having co-hosted a highly successful World Tourism Day forum in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2017—one recognizing the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development—CREST has already begun planning a forum for next year. It, too, will take place on Sept. 27 in Washington, D.C. and feature presentations by sustainable-tourism experts and practitioners. But the focus, this time around, will be “overtourism”, a topic of growing concern to everyone in the travel sphere.
The forum will look at this monumental challenge from every angle, including the sharing economy’s impact on communities and issues facing World Heritages Sites, National Parks and “last chance” destinations. In anticipation of this event, CREST will put together an edited volume on overtourism, featuring case studies and examples of how and where the problem is being tackled. We plan to publish this book in time for the forum. While the overtourism crisis certainly won’t be solved in 2018, CREST plans to provide thoughtful analysis and commentary that points towards possible solutions.
A Big Apple Moment: Taking Part in the Travel+SocialGood Summit
On Nov. 16-17, our director of communications, Rich Shea, was in New York City attending Travel+SocialGood’s 2017 Global Summit, for which CREST served as a partner along with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Tourism Cares, and Sustainable Travel International. Appropriately enough, Rich sat on a panel in the UN on the first day, discussing with the other partners how to re-shape and make more accessible the narrative around sustainable tourism. His message was clear: Let’s concentrate less on analyzing the clinical-sounding terminology and focus more on the core values all travelers should share:
“It’s not where tourism takes place, but how,” Rich noted.
Otherwise, the two-day event—which included tours of New York City neighborhoods, speed-dating-style networking, and a “community by design” workshop with fellow attendees—offered CREST the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs working hard to weave sustainable tourism into their business models. Resources collected before and during the summit are available here.
We’d thank Travel+SocialGood for putting together the excellent summit, but, as the event closed, T+SG’s executive director, Kelley Louise, shared a surprise: a name change to better reflect its global reach, and ever-expanding work with companies and organizations. T+SG is now known as Impact Travel Alliance.
So we say this: Thank you, Impact Travel Alliance, and congratulations!
Cruise Study Findings Presented at UNWTO Conference in Jamaica
In late November, CREST Executive Director Martha Honey participated, along with some 1,500 other delegates, in the “Global Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism” held in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The conference, organized by the UNWTO, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Jamaica government, was one of the official events marking the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The first day was devoted to “The Future of Tourism in the Caribbean Region.”
In her presentation as part of the first panel session, Martha presented key findings from CREST’s new study, “Lessons Learned from 50 Years of Large-Scale Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean.” This topic generated a great deal of interest from Caribbean participants, many of whom said they need more detailed and accurate information about the impacts of cruise tourism. The CREST study is being published in Spanish in Cuba and will be officially released at the Havana Book Fair in February 2018. An English-language edition will be published in the U.S.
The aim of the conference was to set a new collaborative framework for tourism moving towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The conference brought together world leaders from the tourism industry along with governments, donors, and international development and finance organizations to design and coordinate an international road map and foster collaborative relationships for inclusive economic and social development via tourism. The conference concluded by issuing the 15-point Montego Bay Declaration designed to build on the legacy of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 and set a common action plan for 2018 to 2030.
New Benchmarking Report on Tourism Overcrowding Released
On December 12, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and McKinsey & Company released the report Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations. WTTC’s research director, Rochelle Turner, says, “In the report, we attempt to define the problem of ‘overcrowding’ as well as suggest a number of solutions that need to be incorporated into destination planning and management. Overcrowding in tourism destinations is a problem which will only be fixed by long-term planning involving all stakeholders. In our view, this report is only the start of the conversations that need to be had. We plan to spend the months ahead working with stakeholders to implement the solutions discussed in the report in key destinations.”
CREST’s Martha Honey and Samantha Hogenson, along with honorary advisory board member Jonathan Tourtellot, reviewed and contributed to the report. We applaud the effort by WTTC to begin establishing guidelines to address this serious issue impacting destinations worldwide. View the press release and the full report.
Four Educational Seminars Conducted
We execute our vision to transform the way the world travels in various ways, including speaking at educational group events. Four such engagements took place this fall. CREST executive director Martha Honey spoke to a group of clients from Holbrook Travel and then on a Holbrook webinar on the facts, trends, and future of responsible travel. She then spoke to a class of Master of Tourism Administration students from The George Washington University about the practical application of CREST’s work. Highlighting career opportunities within responsible travel, based on case-study examples from CREST, managing director Samantha Hogenson also spoke to an online GW sustainable tourism certification class comprised of students from around the world.
Major Milestone Achieved for Cape Cod Travelers’ Philanthropy Program
CARE for the Cape and Islands, a fiscally sponsored project of CREST, recently celebrated its 5th anniversary. At its anniversary event, CARE made every effort to limit its environmental footprint. The nonprofit served locally-sourced food and sustainable fish, including lesser-known dogfish and skate, provided by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. No plastic was used, and any waste produced was minimal and compostable.
A special anniversary grant for $5,000 was awarded at the event to Island Grown Initiative on Martha’s Vineyard to develop waste stations for its annual agricultural fair, which draws more than 20,000 attendees each year. The waste stations, to be manned by students, will help to significantly reduce the amount of trash from the event. They will also be available for lease by other events, and a how-to manual will be developed as a guide for other events to replicate this concept.
CARE was founded in 2012 by Jill Talladay, who attended CREST’s 2011 Travelers’ Philanthropy conference in Monteverde, Costa Rica, where she was inspired by the event and saw many similarities with her own home of Cape Cod. Since CARE’s launch, Jill has brought together community organizations, travel businesses, NGOs, and visitors to contribute to the stewardship of Cape Cod.
Over the past five years, CARE has awarded grants to help fund more than 25 projects that encourage environmental stewardship and cultural heritage preservation. Projects have included new water bottle filling stations, heritage trail development, marine debris education, and waste reduction through food waste diversion and recycling. This is a significant milestone, and we are very proud of the achievements Jill and her team have accomplished. Are you a Cape Cod resident, or is it a favorite vacation spot? Contact Jill to learn how you can get involved.
Responsible Travel Companies Commit to Supporting CREST
CREST is pleased to welcome three more outstanding responsible-travel-oriented hotels—CGH Earth, in India; The Pavilions Himalayas, in Nepal; and Mahogany Springs, in Uganda—to our Platinum Sponsors category, meaning they have committed to supporting CREST through auction packages for a total of five years. As a non-profit that functions on project-based grants, CREST’s travel auctions are vital to meeting our annual budget. By committing to CREST through Platinum Sponsorship, these companies have made our budgeting that much easier, and this enables us to spend more time working with people around the world to apply the principles and practices of responsible travel. We are immensely grateful to our new donors. Get to know them (and maybe plan a visit!):
CGH Earth: CGH stands for the main values of the enterprise—"Clean, Green, Healthy." For CGH Earth, ultimate luxury means the interests of the environment and the local community come before the interests of the customer. Hiring local is one of the highest priorities for all CGH Earth resorts. Over the past 15 years, it has tried to create an identity that blends with the ambience of the region while being distinctive. The cottages are built with local material and local knowledge. Thatching with elephant grass was a dying practice, but CGH revived it through its structures, and hopes the skill will be passed on to future generations. In 2009, the Spice Village Resort was given the PATA Award for Environment, becoming the first resort in India to receive this important honor.
The Pavilions Himalayas: Innovation, sustainability, and love of nature are at the heart of The Pavilions Himalayas. It offers guests the experience of sustainable luxury while never taking away from the environment. This means The Pavilions generates its own energy, harvests rainwater, uses natural materials, and runs a farm. Its goal is to give 70 percent of net profits to the charities Right4Children and The Pavilions Foundation. Guests experience the beauty, warmth, and love of the land and people.
Mahogany Springs: Mahogany Springs, a luxurious high-end lodge, is one of the premiere destinations for Mountain Gorilla tracking. Guided viewing opportunities provide access to the habitat of the majestic Mountain Gorilla as well as other rare wildlife. Guests are invited to offset their carbon footprint by taking part in a tree-planting program. Mahogany Springs also contributes to many local projects, including Ride4aWoman, which provides local women with the skills to earn their own income. The lodge also supports an orphanage in Kampala, a water-access project, and a local hydro-power project that provides electricity to the surrounding area.
From November 29 to December 13, we hosted our annual Holiday Travel Auction. We didn’t think it was possible to host an auction as successful as our fall auction back in September, but 24 incredible travel companies came through with 21 fabulous vacation packages to help us raise funds to support CREST’s work. Because of the following companies, CREST has been able to make great headway in our mission to transform the way the world travels:
andBeyond’s Bateleur Camp, Andaman Discoveries, Arlo Hotels, Balenbouche Estate, Cottar’s Safaris Service, Country Walkers, Coyaba Beach Resort, Hotel El Ganzo*, Fairmont Kea Lani, Green Roof Inn, Hamadryade Lodge, Holbrook Travel, Isle of Reefs Tours, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Mahogany Springs*, Morgan’s Rock, Mountain Travel Sobek, New York Hall of Science, NYC Urban Adventures, Six Senses Laamu, The Tamara Coorg, The Brando Tetiaroa Private Island, The Palms Hotel & Spa, and Spirit Bear Lodge.
Do you represent a responsibly-minded travel business? We’d love for you to participate in our upcoming Valentine’s Day Travel Auction, which will take place January 30 through February 13, 2018, via www.charitybuzz.com. Get in touch, and we’ll be happy to discuss the benefits.
Expanding Our Knowledge Base: New Academic Affiliates
In recent years, the study of tourism and its environmental, socio-cultural, and economic impacts has taken off. Since tourism accounts for 10 percent of global GDP, and is woven into the very fabric of a place, its study is vitally important. We are continually impressed by the caliber of students who come our way to pursue internships, and who’ve studied sustainable tourism or some iteration of it at a very deep level through their university work.
That’s why we are also working with a coalition of their professors, or “Academic Affiliates,” who are researching and teaching a wide range of topics related to tourism and its sustainability. We are happy to welcome four new professors to our Academic Affiliates network:
We look forward to working with them on various projects expected to expand the knowledge base of tourism impacts and best practices. If you are interested in becoming a CREST Academic Affiliate, let’s talk!
Ellen Ray, who just finished up an internship at CREST, has had great experiences traveling abroad via work trade programs. In this essay, she explains how they operate and why they serve as a solution to the overtourism problem.
Welcome to Our Newest Intern, Kelsey Frenkiel
A very warm welcome to our newest intern, Kelsey Frenkiel. Originally from New Jersey, Kelsey completed her undergraduate degree in anthropology at the College of William & Mary in 2016. She focused mainly on archaeology, but studied other diverse topics, such as museum studies, American history, and primate behavior. She focused specifically on primates by interning for the Jane Goodall Institute in 2015, then explored the subject even further by attending a master’s program in primate conservation at Oxford Brookes University, completing her degree in September 2017.
While at Oxford Brookes, Kelsey developed an interest in ecotourism as a tool for primate conservation and carried out field work in Java, Indonesia, with the Little Fireface Project, for her dissertation research. She now plans to pursue a career in sustainable tourism, to which she hopes to contribute her knowledge of wildlife. In her spare time, Kelsey writes, reads, plays softball, practices jiu-jitsu, and is learning how to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
No one organization or entrepreneurial enterprise can take on the challen of making thsi world more sustainable through tourism by itself. CREST is proud to align with dozens of responsible travel "partners," or associates worth a shout out. Check out what these three are up to:
Staying Ahead in the Digital Age: CREST Partners with Adventure Bucket List
Keeping up digitally is a key to being competitive. That’s why CREST has partnered with Adventure Bucket List, which provides tourism destinations with an enterprise software platform to bring activities, tours, and local accommodations online. The platform is designed to increase visitor spending, keep tourism dollars local, and strengthen relationships within the community. It monetizes traditional tourism-listing websites and empowers local businesses by increasing online visibility and reducing dependency on third parties. Interested in exploring opportunities for your destination management organization or business? Contact us to learn more!
Say Hello to Kind Traveler
Starting in 2018, we will be checking in twice a year—via stories and updates—with a truly unique for-profit enterprise which, with the click of a mouse (or tap of a finger), provides funding for a variety of charities contributing to the sustainability of destination communities.
Called Kind Traveler it’s the brainchild of Jessica Blotter and Sean Krejci, a former earth sciences teacher and Air Force officer veteran, respectively, who, after multiple successful startup ventures of their own, took a trip to Belize that would help them be, as Jessica writes on the company’s website, “champions for good.” While on a tour bus, traveling the country’s back roads, she recalls, “we witnessed heartbreaking poverty,” represented, most visibly, by emaciated dogs wandering the streets. So Jessica and Sean bought them some food, and, soon, fellow travelers were doing the same. It suddenly hit them—these were kind, compassionate travelers who “just needed a catalyst” for doing good.
That’s the idea behind the socially-conscious “Give + Get” hotel booking platform launched, via Kind Traveler, a year and a half ago. And it’s compellingly demonstrated by the video below:
Thus far, Kind Traveler has partnered with 57 hotels, 50 charities, and 23 destinations, with plenty of room to grow. Among the causes client donations have benefitted are poverty prevention, education, climate action, animal welfare, and disaster relief. The company’s “stories” page provides specific examples of their beneficiaries’ work. As we expect more great things from Kind Traveler, we’ll continue to share them with you in the coming year.
Found in Translation: the Na’atik Language and Culture Institute
Na’atik Language and Culture Institute is a social enterprise language school that teaches English to locals and Spanish or Maya to foreigners. Located in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, in southeastern Mexico, where 70 percent of the residents are impoverished, Na’atik teaches English to more than 200 students, ages 4 to 45. English is a key job skill in tourism and has increasingly become a prerequisite for higher level education. The cost of these classes is subsidized, and the scholarships offered to locals covered, by donors and the income from Na’atik’s Study Abroad Yucatán (SAY) Program.
SAY invites travelers to stay in Carrillo while learning either Spanish or Maya—some for a weekend, others for months. They live with local homestay families, learn from local teachers, and tour local sites. This not only boosts language learning; it gives visitors a view of Mexico unique to what most travelers experience. Plus, it feeds the local economy and shows Carrillo residents that outsiders are interested in their culture and language.
“Na'atik,” by the way, comes from the Maya expression "To'on na'atik," which, in English, means, "We're understanding each other." It’s also appropriate in more ways than one. Na’atik’s co-founder and director, Catherine Gray, is a northern Virginia native who, in 1996, traveled to Carrillo to volunteer with an environmental organization, then fell in love with a local named Pedro. Several years later, they got married and had two kids and, in 2010, founded Na’atik. Catherine is now a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, Pedro a recently retired high school teacher who teaches Spanish at Na'atik.
We encourage anyone with an interest in learning Spanish or Maya, and experiencing that part of the world, to check out Na’atik’s SAY webpage.
CREST is a licensed 501(c)3 in the District of Columbia. Want to help us to transform the way the world travels? Support our work here.