The idyllic white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Quintana Roo have made it a favorite destination of tourists coming to Mexico. In 2014, the state received around 14 million tourists and visitors—56% of the entire country’s travelers. With more than 88,000 rooms, the tourism industry in Quintana Roo has supported a healthy economy, employment, growth and stability to the area. However, it has also created many environmental challenges. For example, Quintana Roo produces about 640.45 million tons of waste per year, and much of it comes from the hotel industry.
Since 2006, the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI), together with the Riviera Maya Hotel Association (Spanish acronym AHRM), has been helping tourism entrepreneurs reduce their environmental footprint on the natural ecosystems of the area. MARTI and AHRM promoted the implementation of the Environmental Management System, which includes criteria to reduce water consumption, achieve energy efficiency and properly manage wastewater and solid waste. In 2007, 17 hotels implemented the system, and today there are 130 hotels participating, accounting for 36,000 Quintana Roo hotel rooms (41% of the total in the destination).
“At first we had to ‘sell’ the idea of having an environmental management system. The concept of sustainable tourism was little known. Nearly 90% of the hotels did not even separate or recycle waste,” said Fernando del Valle, operations manager for AHRM’s Sustainable Hospitality Program. “Now recycling is the norm, a part of their core operations; their efforts go far beyond. Sustainability has become part of their culture and they have outstanding environmental projects.”
Hotels that join the MARTI Environmental Management System undergo an environmental performance assessment, receive training on the implementation of best practices for sustainable tourism, and they are then evaluated to measure their compliance with the program. Since 2006, more than 26,000 hotel employees have received training through MARTI and 44 hotels have established a sustainability department or have at least one person dedicated to this area.
This year, MARTI measured the environmental achievements in a sample of 20 hotels and found that they have reduced, on average, their water consumption by 17%, energy consumption by 13% and the use of gas by almost 8% thanks to the implementation of the program’s best practices.
“MARTI helped put us on the right path; it gave us training on reducing the footprint of our hotel, and recommended specific changes that we should make and indicators to measure our progress,” said Katia Cordourier, director of the Ecological Foundation of Bahía Príncipe Hotels & Resorts, one of the first hotels to join the MARTI program.
Bahía Príncipe has reduced the waste in its four hotels to 20 tons per day, of which 8 tons are recycled, and 40% of the organic waste is donated for composting. They have replaced lighting, cooling and heating systems with other efficient energy systems. In addition, they intend to replace their electronic equipment with a more energy efficient version, and to replace 100% of the gasoline-powered carts used for internal tourist transport with a fleet of electric vehicles.
For six hotels of the Karisma Group that have been MARTI members since 2008, the program marked a before-and-after point. “MARTI triggered our commitment to responsible resource management and helped us position it as a central focus of our work,” explained David Ortegón, corporate director of sustainability for Karisma. MARTI’s principles are the basis of the chain’s environmental management system, called Passion for Sustainability.
Karisma’s Azul Beach Hotel treats and uses 100% of its wastewater other than pool water to irrigate 80% of the green areas and clean other areas. This reduced the amount of wastewater that could infiltrate groundwater and damage the reef, and it also lowered the high cost of watering using potable water. By replacing air conditioning and refrigeration systems and using LED lighting, Azul Beach also reduced its electricity consumption from 40 to 30 kilowatt hours per guest. At El Dorado Royale hotel, alongside similar measures for resource conservation, Karisma built a modern, certified sustainable greenhouse where 15 crops are produced to supply their restaurants. The greenhouse uses an efficient drip watering system to fertilize the plants. The unused water that drains from the plants is recycled and reused for watering.
Around 50 MARTI members have also achieved environmental certifications from certifiers such as Green Globe, Earthcheck, Rainforest Alliance, and Travel Life and Tourism Environmental Quality.
“The change that MARTI encouraged among the hotels is exemplary,” noted José Funes, Quintana Roo Delegate to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), “it managed to engage the private sector in tourism sustainability and their efforts are little-by-little improving the whole destination.”