What is sustainable tourism in Baja Mexico?

A few days ago I returned from a vacation in the Baja peninsula, traveling for the first time in a while as a tourist instead of for work. Of course, once I’ve begun learning about sustainable tourism practices (and unsustainable practices as well), it’s impossible to ignore them on any type of trip.

While hiking outside of Todos Santos, I began chatting with our guide about the challenges of the tourism industry in southern Baja.

Beach outside of Todos Santos
Beach outside of Todos Santos

Our guide told us that it was a community effort to keep their town, and the surrounding area, safe from the unmitigated growth you would find in Cabo San Lucas. As we reached the hilltop, overlooking the beach, we saw 70 miles of uninterrupted coastline stretching to the horizon without one high-rise in sight. According to our guide, this was not an easy struggle as many outside developers were eying this pristine beach. At this point, the local community has successfully stopped real-estate development that would endanger their ecologically sensitive coastline, but it’s an ongoing effort.

Another problem local operators faced was capacity building. Oftentimes, international travel companies would book tours and the local guide would have to look like they worked for outside company. When the tourist left and reviewed the tour, the review reflected the outside travel company instead of the local operator. So if that international travel company decides to move on, the local operator has no reputation, despite having run high quality trips. This practice makes it difficult for the small local operators to stay around.

Local businesses keep jobs and money in the town’s economy; not to mention that they care personally about the development in their area, so they’re more apt to stay involved in environmental issues.

This testimony from a local guide made it real to me: Every destination in the world deserves the benefits of fair trade travel. Our travel dollars should help a community build local businesses and keep the environment safe from reckless development.

Stories like these convince me that promoting fair trade travel is more important each year.  We think of environmentally sustainable practices and capacity building for local businesses when we buy fair trade coffee. Hopefully, we can start to apply the same logic when booking vacations.