I am not an ecotourist. I’m not well-versed on global warming, clean energy, carbon footprints, or any of the other environmental issues plaguing our planet. Low-impact tourism is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when choosing where I should vacation. I’ve never participated in any sort of environmental protectionist protests or boycotts, and I’ve never gone on crusades advocating for the preservation of the rainforests and oceans.
Still, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t engaged in my fair share of environmental altruism. I’ve volunteered plenty of hours cleaning local beaches, preserving my community’s wetlands, and planting trees. I recycle, I don’t litter, and I sometimes shop at my local farmer’s market with my reusable grocery bags in hand. Heck, I even drive a low carbon emission vehicle. Does it really matter that I didn’t realize that it’s a low carbon emission vehicle until recently, despite the fact that I bought the car about four years ago?! The point is that I’m aware that the environment has problems, and I’m doing my part to help – right? But should I be doing more, especially when it comes to my pursuit of a life of travel?
I recently interviewed Larry Waight, the Marketing Director at The Lodge at Chaa Creek, an all-inclusive eco-resort that promotes sustainable and socially responsible tourism. At the base of the Maya Mountains, the resort sits in the rainforest along the Macal River on a 365-acre nature reserve.
It’s Larry’s job to sell prospective guests on the Chaa Creek experience – a stay in an accommodation that meshes with the local ecosystem along with an offering of nature-related activities such as hikes, a visit to the resort’s butterfly or organic Maya farms, horseback riding or canoeing along the river, or a professional treatment while enjoying panoramic rainforest views at the resort’s hilltop spa.
But one of the most important selling points is that travelers don’t have to sacrifice luxury for the sake of environmental responsibility. Proving that it’s possible to have a sustainable travel experience without violating my anti-“roughing it” travel policy, my interview with Larry has me rethinking my travel style. From the destinations I prioritize, to the accommodations I select, and the activities I participate in (whether volunteering or not), I’m wondering if I should be doing more to ensure that my travels aren’t causing more environmental harm than good.
My takeaway from this interview? I’m not an ecotourist, but perhaps I should be. Read on…
Where are you from?
I’m from Belize in Central America.
In what part of Belize do you currently live?
I live in a small and beautiful village called Bullet Tree Falls in the Cayo District of Belize.
How did you get involved in destination marketing and/or tourism-related marketing? What is your educational/work background?
I hold degrees in Economics, Finance, International Business, and a Certificate in Internet Marketing.
Chaa Creek recruited me when I was in college. I was hired by Chaa Creek in 2006 as an accountant and then in 2008 a marketing position became available. I applied for the post and got the job since my passion wasn’t really in accounting. I then took several advanced internet marketing courses in the U.S. Part of the requirement of the course was to read The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott, and it was that book that opened my mind to how to successfully market using the internet.
What do you do as Chaa Creek’s Marketing Director?
I spearhead the resort’s marketing efforts. This includes: responding to media leads and liaising with travel writers, answering travel writers’ requests for information; setting up and maintaining databases of local and international media contacts; reviewing media alerts and responding to requests for information and photos; reviewing magazines for advertising potential and leads for new promotional avenues; providing promotional materials for presenters at trade shows; sending requested information to travel agents; and keeping an up-to-date library of Chaa Creek’s photographs.
For those who don’t know, what is sustainable, green tourism?
Sustainable or green tourism is tourism that preserves the environment and improves the quality of life of local people.
What qualifies a resort as an eco-resort?
When a resort runs its day-to-day operation using the triple bottom line model: planet, people, and profit, it qualifies as an eco-resort. I believe that if a resort doesn’t incorporate these three fundamental principles in its operation, then it can’t be classified as an eco-resort.
Are eco-resorts generally more expensive than “regular” resorts/hotels? If so, why?
I don’t think so. For example, at Chaa Creek, we provide our guests with an option of staying either at The Lodge which is upscale and luxurious or The Macal River Camp which is more rustic and ideal for budget travelers who want to be closer to nature.
What can travelers expect to find at an eco-resort such as Chaa Creek that they wouldn’t find at a “regular” resort?
Chaa Creek is unique and different from other resorts in Belize because we’re not only a resort but also a destination within a destination. Within the 365 acres of private nature reserve, you’ll find 23 comfortable palm thatched cottage rooms, 10 camp casitas at The Macal River Camp, a conference center, restaurant and bar, rainforest spa as well as a Natural History Center, butterfly farm, and Maya Medicine Plant Trail.
What is Chaa Creek’s approach to creating a green experience for its guests?
Our approach starts upon arrival when our reception staff begins the process of thoroughly orientating each visitor and explaining our environmental policies including how each guest can assist with our conservation efforts. This orientation process continues through written conservation messages in each guest room.
What kinds of guests stay at Chaa Creek? In your opinion, are most Chaa Creek guests genuinely concerned about sustainable, green tourism?
Our guests are adventure travelers, scientists, filmmakers, research groups, students and people of all ages looking for intellectual and physical stimulation in Belize’s vibrant rainforest. Our guests are genuinely concerned about sustainable green tourism which is why they choose to stay with us.
How do you market Chaa Creek to travelers who aren’t as concerned about ecotourism either because they don’t know what ecotourism is or because they’re just apathetic?
Eighty percent of the marketing that our team executes promotes Belize’s attractions, people, culture, food, music, flora and fauna, and conservation efforts while the other 20% focuses on Chaa Creek’s accommodations, onsite activities, vacation packages, and tours.
By putting more emphasis on marketing the entire country of Belize, travelers will find the country not only sexy but appealing to visit and will then choose to travel to Belize.
On almost every page of our website we talk about the Chaa Creek Cares Program which ensures that 10% of room revenue is allocated to community outreach programs. If you’re an intrepid and conscious traveler, why not travel to a country and resort that ensures that your money is spent on protecting the environment, contributing to the local community, and the sustainable development of the country?
To which environmental, educational, and community programs are 10% of Chaa Creek’s revenues contributed?
The contributions go to the Octavia Waight Old Folks Center, the Cayo Deaf Institute, Marla’s House of Hope Orphanage, Cristo Rey Elementary School, Eco Kids Summer Camp Program, and Chaa Creek Scholarship Program.
In your opinion, what will be the consequences if more people don’t pursue sustainable travel opportunities?
I believe that people who don’t pursue sustainable travel opportunities will contribute to societal problems like environmental degradation, an unsustainable economy, and poor development.
Do you incorporate sustainable travel into your personal travels and into your personal life? If so, in what ways?
Yes. For example, I buy my fruits and vegetables from the local farmers. I’m also the Chairman of the Cayo Tourism Industry Association and my duties and responsibilities are to promote sustainable tourism in the Cayo District and the entire country of Belize.
Where have you traveled?
I’ve been to Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Which destinations are on your travel wish list?
Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, France, Italy, and New Zealand.
Apart from Belize, what’s your favorite destination and why?
Costa Rica – because it’s similar to Belize. But Belize is Costa Rica plus because we have everything that Costa Rica has and much more.
How do you spend a typical weekend in Belize? What local spots do you frequent?
I visit the San Ignacio Market on Saturdays because that’s when farmers and almost everyone comes into town to buy, sell, trade, gossip, and generally catch up.
What are the top 5 reasons everyone should visit Belize?
- The weather in Belize is perfect year round.
- The people of Belize are very friendly.
- Belize provides the perfect surf and turf vacation. For example, you can hike an ancient Maya city in the morning, and in the afternoon, you can relax on Belize’s beautiful coast.
- Belize is packed with unique attractions including the Belize Barrier Reef, pristine rainforest, ancient Maya cities and ceremonial caves, and abundant flora and fauna.
- Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America.
Tell us more about the Chaa Creek Summer Camp. Is it held annually? How did the camp go this year?
The Eco Kids Summer Camp Program is fully sponsored by Chaa Creek as part of our commitment to give back to the community. The program is held every year in July and it educates 24 kids from all over Belize in biodiversity, natural resource conservation, the ancient Maya, traditional Maya medicine, and the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
This year, the camp went great! I had the chance to give a presentation on responsible tourism and was amazed at how smart and focused the kids were during the presentation.
Does Chaa Creek offer any voluntourism programs? If not, will such programs be offered in the foreseeable future?
At the moment we don’t offer volunteerism related programs but we do foresee offering such programs in the future. We do offer internship programs for high school and university students, and over the years we’ve had interns from all over the world including Mexico, Denmark, the UK, Ireland, and the U.S.
Have you taken advantage of any of Chaa Creek’s spa treatments? If so, what’s your favorite one?
Yes – I like the Coma Massage.
*All images in this post have been provided courtesy of The Lodge at Chaa Creek.
*For booking details, check out Chaa Creek’s reservation page.