This April, RED attended the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Madrid, invited as a Finalist of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. In the end, we lost out to the internet juggernaut Trip Advisor, but the value of the nomination and the experience of participating in the event far outweighed the award. It was refreshing to tap into a new network and forge relationships with people interested in making tourism’s impact in the world a net positive.
During the day of learning I was given the chance to present the RED model to a panel of tourism industry experts, media and academics. The awards had already been decided – it was more of an informative exchange, and in five minutes, I tried my best to communicate the world of projects that RED implements. I described the RED hybrid model consisting of a forward thinking tour operator and a nonprofit organization, both focused on conservation and socioeconomic objectives. The social enterprise tour operator creates sustainable employment opportunities, builds a space for fishermen, poachers and members of rural communities to evolve into natural resource stewards. Operating the tours generates cash and human power for conservation projects. The nonprofit trains up microenterprises in priority conservation areas, and works with Natural Protected Area staff to improve tourism management.
The overwhelming response to my presentation was amazement that such a small organization (current staff of 6), could implement so many different projects, and address challenges from different angles – in communities, at the institutional level, and engaging markets and other tour operators, both in Mexico and internationally. Almost without exception, I was posed the question of whether we thought the RED model could be implemented in other countries.
In short, yes, the RED model is very exportable, and it is a question we have asked ourselves as we watch the model evolve. At the same time, there is a lot to do here in Mexico. RED’s nomination as a Finalist for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards is monumental for the organization, in that it validates our vision of RED’s social enterprise model, the risks we have taken, and the path we have set forward. More importantly, the recognition has great significance for our state of Baja California Sur and Mexico as a nation, in that it supports the vision that conserving species and habitat, rescuing cultural patrimony, and creating dignified, employment opportunities shouldn’t be just part of a marketing platform, but rather guiding principles to guide strategies for tourism development to help carry Mexico into the future.