Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ecotourism--a natural fit for the Land of Enchantment


Right now I'm working on an exciting new initiative for the New Mexico Tourism Department, one that could redefine our state as a "green" destination: Ecotourism. Ecotourism is a big word with a lot of baggage, so let me break it down for you here with the International Ecotourism Society's definition, on which we are building this program:

"Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."

When Secretary Cerletti and I recently held a press conference (Jan. 15, 2009--see a photo to the right with guest speaker Stuart Ashman, Secretary of Cultural Affairs, at the podium)) to unveil our Ecotourism project, it was with the intention to share our plan for promoting and preserving the already rich treasures that bring visitors to the state—scenic beauty and cultural heritage—repackaging and rebranding what is qualified and vetted by Ecotourism experts as Ecotourism, thereby putting the state on the map as one of the country’s first statewide Eco-destinations.

Ecotourism is the fastest growing segment in the tourism industry and brings a desirable type of visitor—one that stays longer, spends more money, and has an interest in authentic, hands-on experiences. Here are some bottom-line facts regarding what the state has to gain by this initiative, as provided by the International Ecotourism Society.

Since the 1990s, Ecotourism has been growing 20% - 34% per year.

In 2004, Ecotourism/nature tourism was growing globally 3 times faster than the tourism industry as a whole.

“Experiential” tourism—which encompasses Ecotourism, nature, heritage, cultural, and soft adventure tourism, as well as sub-sectors such as rural and community tourism—is among the sectors expected to grow most quickly over the next two decades.

Analysts predict a growth in Eco-resorts and hotels, and a boom in nature tourism — a sector already growing at 20% a year — and suggest early converts to sustainable tourism will make market gains.

In Europe:

--20%-30% of travelers are aware of needs & values of sustainable tourism.

--10%-20% of travelers look for ‘green’ options.

--5%-10% of travelers demand ‘green’ holidays.

Nearly half of those surveyed in Britain said they would be more likely to go with a “company that had a written code to guarantee good working conditions, protect the environment and support local charities in the tourist destination…”

The question shouldn’t be why are we looking to bring Ecotourism to New Mexico, rather, why wouldn’t we? By branding and marketing ourselves as such, we stand to gain sustainable tourism that values scenic beauty, wildlife, outdoor adventure, and cultural heritage and will be a huge boon to an industry that already touts an economic impact of $5.2 billion dollars in direct spending each year in the state.

By identifying ourselves as the Ecotourism destination in the United States and offering Eco-adventures and packaged vacations across the state, New Mexico has the capacity to lead a rapidly growing sector of the tourism industry. This is our chance to embrace our already magnificent “Enchantment”, capitalizing on our existing assets in a new and growing market, and setting ourselves even further apart from our competitors in a time when ingenuity and freshness are in high demand.

If you can't tell--I'm excited about this project! The flood of interest and support from communities across the state and the country have been heartening. This is a big opportunity. For more questions feel free to email me:


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