Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sustainable Tourism: The Stunning Example of Huatulco, Mexico

Sustainable tourism is the goal of many countries, but a good example of such sustainability can be found already in Huatulco, Mexico, as I discovered recently when I visited the area. I have written several times in this blog about sustainable development, but I was surprised to find it in this small corner of Mexico.

Huatulco (wha-TOOL-ko) is located on the Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca which is renowned for its biodiversity and ranks first in Mexico for its concentration of species. Oaxaca also contains 23 of the 30 types of vegetation zones.

Huatulco's tourism industry is centered on its nine bays. The area is officially called Bahias de Huatulco, but this has been shortened simply to Huatulco. In the Mixtec language, Huatulco literally translates as "the place where the wood is adored," which is an appropriate name for it today. Huatulco has a population of 50,000 and is located on the southern Pacific coast approximately 500 km southeast of Acapulco. It also boasts a university.

I discovered Huatulco by accident. My wife and I needed a vacation after she finished her new book. We love Mexico, but we did not want to return to Cancun or the Riviera Maya which are flooded with foreigners. The only Mexicans one sees there are those who work at the resorts. Thus, we were ready for something different. What we did not expect was the ecological focus of the area.

About 80% of all tourism in Huatulco is domestic and only about 20% of Huatulco's tourism is foreign (it may have been as few as 5% when we were there). This is mainly because international air access is still limited, although there are frequent flights to Mexico City. There is a small international airport which has increased tourism in the area. Access by road is difficult since the highways have many speed bumps.

While searching for an affordable resort, I found out about Huatulco and was immediately intrigued. It was not difficult to invite two friends to go with us. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed the area We decided that it was the best place we had been in our travels all over the Caribbean.

The weather in Huatulco is gorgeous. Annually, it enjoys about 330 days of sunshine. Only when we got on the plane to return to Toronto did we see any dark clouds. The dry season extends from December to May and the rainy season is from June to November. It can get very hot -- an average of 28 degrees year round -- but we have lived in many tropical countries and know how to deal with the heat.

Huatulco is divided into four main districts. Tangolunda is the area where the large upscale resorts are located; Santa Cruz is a small town with the main marina which  is where cruise ships regularly dock. Our hotel was located not far from Santa Cruz beach. La Crucecita is a small town just inland from the beach areas.

Chahué, the fourth district, is the area between Santa Cruz and Tangolunda. The Chahué Beach Club is part of our hotel; this is where we had lunch every day and tried to swim in the Pacific. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so because of the undertow. However, our hotel had several pools to make up for this. Thus, we were able to keep cool.

To the west of Santa Cruz, the beaches are less developed. Most of this area belongs to the Parque Nacional Huatulco. This is a protected area that contains 6,375 hectares of lowland jungle and 5,516 hectares of marine areas, encompassing five more bays.  In these bays, the most important coral communities of the Mexican Pacific can be found. More than 700 species of animals live in the park, as well as a number of species of colorful fish, and it is open to scuba-diving, bird-watching, and hiking.

In 2005, Huatulco was awarded the Green Globe International Certification as a sustainable tourist area. Huatulco was the first sustainable tourist community in the Americas and the third worldwide, after Bali in Indonesia and Kaikoura in New Zealand, to receive this prestigious award because of its development programs for a culture that is environmentally friendly and wants to conserve its natural resources.

It is the only resort area in Mexico to receive this prestigious award. Green Globe is the worldwide benchmarking and certification system for the travel and tourism industry, focussing  on economic, social and environmental management. For many years, Huatulco has also received the Earth Check Gold Certification for complying to and exceeding the highest levels in environmental stewardship.

Large portions of the Huatulco resort area are located within this ecological zone. Much of the area is protected from future development; it is serviced by modern water and sewage treatment plants so that no waste goes into its pristine bays. There are  a few restaurants on these bays, but no one is allowed to stay overnight in this area. Instead, the workers live in neighboring towns.

There is still much work required to implement water monitoring campaigns, construction of toilets and ramps for the disabled, placing information signs and environmental recommendations, and locating containers for solid waste collection along the beach, among other tasks. However, there have been numerous strides made already and there are great things to come. We were impressed with how clean the beaches and resorts are. The towns are equally clean.

Huatulco Airport -- the thatched buildings reminded me of the Philippines

In 2010, Chahué Beach was awarded the “Playa Limpia” (Clean Beach) award by the Federal Attorney for the Protection of the Environment (PROFEPA). This was the first beach certified with such an honor in the State of Oaxaca.

The "environmental footprint" of Huatulco has been determined, by taking into account all economic, tourist, travel, and supply activities related to the area. A proposal was drafted and presented to neutralize carbon emissions, and an application was made for a voluntary green bonus program with the United Nations with the aim  of becoming the first tourism destination on the American continent, and possibly the world to become carbon neutral.

This ambitious project is part of the Equipo Verde Huatulco. Its main goal is to contribute to the mitigation of global warming by neutralizing emissions of all economic activities of this tourist destination and at the same time strengthen the sustainability of the tourism community through local programs that guarantee a better quality of life for the population of the region.

Some noteworthy results are that 100% of Huatulco’s electricity is clean, coming from a nearby wind electricity plant. Together with the low levels of fossil energy use, it is claimed that this places the energy emissions indicator at 61% above best practice elsewhere, and waste generation at less than 500gr daily per capita, which is well below the national and global average and weighs in at 7% above best practice.

These figures are astounding. The evident concern for the environment is totally unexpected, especially in this small corner of Mexico. Serendipity describes how I feel about my discovery of Huatulco. I don't often write about my vacations, but now I am compelled to do this.

Some years ago, I wrote about my experiences of a Cuban hospital which was the result of a nasty fall only half an hour after arriving at a resort there. I have also written numerous times about environmental issues and sustainable development. But never before have I been able to combine tourism and a concern for the environment.

If you are looking for a vacation that is different, I suggest you visit Huatulco. If you want a change from the Caribbean resorts, visit this Mexican jewel and enjoy an area that is noted for its concern for the environment. Sustainable development and tourism do mix: Huatulco is living proof!


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Celebrating the fifth anniversary of this blog

What in the World?

Happy anniversary! Admittedly, this is self-congratulatory, but who else is going to do it for me?

I am celebrating the fifth anniversary of this blog. Five enjoyable years of blogging on many topics -- too many to list now. Five years of sharing my thoughts about the interface between religion and the public square. I admit that I have digressed several times only to return to what continues to be the main focus of this blog.

On Wednesday, April 13, 2011, I wrote my first post in this blog. It was entitled, "The Middle East and the role of religion." It dealt with the need to accept Muslims as a result of developments in the Middle East. At the outset, I clearly stated my standpoint on interfaith relations, a topic to which I have returned many times:
I, for one, firmly believe that Christians and Muslims (as well as Jews) worship the same God. Thus all of us must seek to build bridges rather than destroying each other with all kinds of weapons, including the most deadly one of all: words. Love must replace hatred. Then and only then will we be able to live together in peace and harmony, as God intended. Please comment, therefore, with these remarks in mind.
In the second post, called "The world in which we live" where I explained a little more about who I was and what I intended to do with this blog:
I am writing this blog as a Christian to Christians, but not only for them. Thus I invite those who are not Christians to look over my shoulder and to respond as well to what I am saying here. Yet I want to issue the standard disclaimer that these are my personal remarks and thus should not be attributed to other Christians, especially those who do not agree with everything that I am writing. 
In my profile, I mention my family. I thought it interesting and worthwhile to introduce my family. Unfortunately, a current photo is not available largely because my family is too spread out (David in Istanbul and Pauline near Boston), but here is one that includes most of the adults (from left to right), Adrian, David, Wendy, Sharon, and Pauline. Two grandchildren, Grace and Chris (standing in front). Missing are Manolya (David's wife), Greg (Pauline's husband), and three (yet) unborn grandchildren (James, Tessa, and Ibo).

I am not going to quote from every post. That would take too long since this is the 294th  post, which works out to an average of almost 60 per year. During each of the first two years I penned 64 posts, the following year 61, last year 49, and this year I hope to complete one per week on average. Much of the time it is easy to find something to write about, although occasionally that has been a challenge.

At the beginning of July 2011, I started illustrating my posts which I hope has livened up this blog. As people say, a picture is worth a thousand words. At first, I used only one picture, but soon I added more. In my profile, I describe it as an illustrated blog. The intention of the illustrations is to add something meaningful and lively.

If you want to see all the posts, please consult the blog archive where all the posts are listed by year and by month. There are many posts on very diverse topics. Occasionally I have dealt with the same topic in a series of posts, but I am surprised by how many topics I covered during these five years.

Let me share a little bit about the process of writing a post. After I have drafted the text, I then look for suitable images. But there have also been times when an illustration provides ideas that I can incorporate in the post. Sometimes I can write it in only a few hours, but at other times, it can take me days because the inspiration didn't come quickly enough.

In five years, this blog has attracted more than a half-million pageviews. For this reason, I am providing a breakdown of the number of pageviews of the ten most popular posts. Clearly many people are reading these posts. Sometimes I wish I had more comments, but I prefer to referee them ever since I received a number of spam messages with pornographic content. These I can eliminate this way before they offend anyone. Here is the list:


Nov 15, 2011, 15 comments
Oct 11, 2011, 11 comments
Aug 3, 2011, 3 comments
Nov 4, 2011, 9 comments
Aug 21, 2012, 5 comments
Jul 20, 2012, 1 comment
May 22, 2012, 6 comments
Dec 3, 2011

Readers come from all over the world. Although many readers may return on a regular basis, it constantly amazes me how many countries are represented as well as the size of the audience in each country. Here is the cumulative audience by country to date (note that only the top ten countries are listed):

Pageviews by Countries

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
United States
United Kingdom

I have purposely refrained from using this blog to earn money. People have suggested several times that I use it to generate a small income, But I loathe to commercialize it, in part, because of the theme of religion which I don't want to demean in any way.

Notice that the most popular post by far deals with climate change: "Global warming is real." I wrote this back in November 2011. On a regular basis, people continue to read this particular post. I have returned to the topic of climate change many times since then. I am not afraid of stirring up controversy on important issues.

The second most popular post was "Inside a Cuban hospital." It describes what happened to me when I broke my armThis post, obviously, does not fit the theme of the blog, but many people have written since to inform me that have had similar experiences.

Whenever I write about Islam, there is a large audience. From my posts, Muslims know that I abhor Islamophobia and that I want to build bridges between faith communities. My PhD is in ecumenism, which deals with the unity of the Christian church. But I am currently concentrating on interfaith relations because of the way Islam is treated by people in the West. There are too many Western politicians who play on the fear factor in order to win elections. That fearmongering must stop.

When I examine the pageview list carefully, I notice that the audience is smallest whenever I deal overtly with the Christian faith. I know many readers are Christians, but those who are not may possibly be turned off by my faith or any mention of the Bible in this blog. If so, I deeply regret this, but that will not keep me from doing so in the future. Some of those who preach toleration the loudest can when it comes to non-Christian faiths be intolerant of Christians. Such intolerance is inexcusable.

An order of Trappist monks who live among Muslims in Algeria during the civil war. These men must decide whether to stay with their neighbors or flee the encroaching terrorists. This story based on actual events.

Occasionally, I have reviewed books and films, especially if they refer to faith. There were many readers for these posts, so I intend to continue with the reviews when suitable books and films are available.

I invite all my readers to provide feedback on issues and the types of material that you enjoy reading. Writing can become very lonely affair if there is no feedback. It is always heartwarming when people tell me how much they enjoy this blog. Please feel free to add your comments whether in person or in writing. That would be very helpful and enlightening, not to mention alleviating my loneliness.

Thanks for being part of this journey for the last five years. I pray that God will give me the strength and the wisdom I need to continue for many more years. I enjoyed doing the writing and I hope you enjoyed the reading.

Many centuries ago, authors or musicians would conclude the manuscript with these words: Soli Deo Gratia (Glory to God Alone). This was to signify that the work had been produced for the sake of praising God. That is also the sentiment with which I want to conclude this anniversary post: S.D.G.

This is was what G. F. Handel wrote at the end of a manuscript