With assistance from the MARTI initiative, Riviera Maya, Cozumel and the islands of Roatán and Utila, three of the most visited places in the Mesoamerican Caribbean, are making progress towards becoming sustainable destinations. Thanks to the implementation of destination assessments, local governments have developed action plans and cross-cutting projects to integrate global criteria for sustainability that will allow them to grow and promote inclusive development with a low environmental footprint.
Roatán, the port with second highest number of cruise ship arrivals in Honduras, completed a Rapid Sustainable Destination Diagnostic in 2013, with the help of MARTI and its partner Sustainable Travel International (STI). The evaluation was based on 84 global indicators of sustainable tourism and it analyzed issues such as sustainable tourism planning, economic ties, the preservation of cultural heritage, social and community issues, and environmental protection. The process was attended by 50 stakeholders including entrepreneurs, community leaders, government officials and non-governmental organizations.
“This was the first time we have had such a successful participatory process, with so many actors reaching consensus on aspects that are transforming the island,” said Synthia Bennett Solomon, Vice-Minister of Tourism of Honduras.
Thanks to the assessment, a local destination management organization (DMO) was created for Roatán and the Bay Islands. With support from the Bay Islands Tourist Free Zone (Spanish acronym ZOLITUR) and the Honduran Tourism Institute, a destination manager was hired to head up the DMO and an integrated work plan was developed.
At this time, projects are underway to address urgent needs identified in the diagnostic: promoting local cultures, waste management and wastewater treatment. In fact, MARTI is supporting the connection of homes and businesses to the West End treatment plant. Almost 70% of the town is already connected to the plant.
Another important step forward is the creation of a tool to assess the sustainability of local tourism enterprises. The Geotourism Council of Roatán through the Go Blue Central America project that has support from MARTI, is developing the instrument with the international organization Rainforest Alliance. Thanks to Go Blue, 80 tourism companies in Roatán, including hotels, restaurants and dive centers, have been trained in sustainable tourism practices.
According to Bennett, the process has been so successful it will be replicated in Utila and it could become a model for sustainable destination management in the rest of the country.