As one of the 10 most visited countries in the world, Mexico is the personification of the sun, sand, surf, and cultural heritage vacation. Given its importance of tourism to the economy, Mexico instituted, in 2006, a regulation that has “certified (more than 30) ecotourism businesses and provided small, rural tourism business owners with training, technical assistance, and marketing support“.
Based upon the principles of international guidelines such as the United Nations Global Compact, the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, and ISO standards, Mexico’s SEMARNAT ecotourism regulation (NMX-AA-133-SCFI-2006) aims to specifically address the main environmental issues affecting Mexico, namely:
- Conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and biodiversity
- Prevention and control of pollution
- Comprehensive management of water resources
The SEMARNAT ecotourism regulation is a voluntary program open to all types of ecotourism businesses. And, to fulfill the requirement, each business must have at least a planning document that addresses each of the following criteria:
- Water waste
- Air pollution
- Carbon emissions
- Hazardous waste
- Flora and fauna interpretation
- Soil use
- Noise pollution
- Environmental protection
- Wildlife protection view
A third-party, which presently consists of two independent auditors, evaluates whether the business fulfills the criteria of the regulation. According to the Secretary of SEMARNAT, “A business’ infrastructure cannot affect tributaries of water, deteriorate wildlife habitat, or interrupt the biological processes of native species; a building’s architecture and design should utilize natural sources of energy such as the sun, incorporate the surrounding landscape, and use materials that are compatible with the environment; it should use eco-techniques to manage water and wastes correctly, and incorporate alternative energy sources; it should use sustainably produced biodegradable products from local providers; offer information and educational materials about environmental and cultural themes to tourists; establish marked trails; and have an environmental education program and participate in conservation, cultural, and community initiatives.“
Those ecotourism businesses that do comply with the criteria obtain a certification that is valid for four years, although they must be evaluated each year to ensure continued understanding and conformity. Otherwise, a certification is suspended if any non-compliance is found.
Given the SEMARNAT ecotourism regulation’s growing popularity, Mexico has also developed standards for marine tourism and “sun and surf” tourism and is in the process of developing a coastal tourism regulation.