This instalment in our tourism series is by Araceli Dominguez – owner of the eco-hotel and spa ¨El Rey del Caribe¨ in Cancun, Mexico. Araceli is an environmental activist, a businesswoman and a passionate keeper of ancestral traditions. Here, she describes her deep-seated commitment to responsible tourism and her experience working with the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable tourism programme…
Growing up in southeastern Mexico in close proximity to dense mangroves, lush forest and white sand beaches, I developed a natural connection with Mother Earth. Many years later, travelling through Central America with my husband Eduardo, I was lucky to experience new cultures, new places and new traditions while also getting a feel for the important role that tourism can play in protecting the environment.
In 1983, our love of nature and travel inspired us to build a small, pretty hotel in downtown Cancun called El Rey del Caribe. We wanted to give our guests the chance to feel at home in a foreign country and experience genuine Mexican hospitality while surrounded by our country’s beauty. Simultaneously, we wanted to offer them the chance to be responsible tourists and minimise their impact on the environment.
From the beginning, an interest in sustainability and a concern for the environment was high on our agenda; however, it wasn’t until we received support and technical assistance from the Rainforest Alliance in 2008 that our efforts were duly recognised and we were able to further invest in hotel sustainability initiatives.
Through a shared project of the Mexican Environment Ministry (Semarnat), the Rainforest Alliance and the British government, we received technical training and guidance on reducing our environmental impact, preserving biodiversity and improving conditions for workers and the local community. As a result of the educational workshops, we learned to adopt new tools that combined the three principles of sustainability: economic, environmental and social.
Although we had always worked to make our hotel environmentally friendly, implementing prescribed best management practices was something we took very seriously. Among the changes we made: transitioning to lower wattage light bulbs to save energy, registering our water meters to minimise water use, and reducing waste and contamination. During this transition period, we learned more about how sustainable tourism can save energy and help preserve areas of natural beauty, like the beaches, mangroves and wildlife that surround our hotel.
Our investment in sustainability paid off. With new solar panels we have reduced our energy bills by 30 percent and by collecting rainwater we have reduced potable water use by 40 percent. New bins on site have made it possible to segregate and recycle plastic, glass and bottles as well as compost all of the hotel’s organic waste, reducing the volume of rubbish sent to a nearby landfill. We have also planted native shrubs and trees around the hotel, increasing birdlife and creating a greener environment. My initial love and respect for nature is now shared by our hotel’s employees, who are now fully aware and conscious of their role in looking after the environment.
During our most recent evaluation by the Rainforest Alliance — based on standards of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria — we received the highest score in Mexico in recognition of our efforts to implement sustainable practices at the hotel. This was a huge achievement for us and a reward for all of our efforts to create a genuinely sustainable business that contributes to the conservation of our local environment.
El Rey del Caribe has 31 luxury rooms, all of which open out onto a courtyard with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. The hotel also offers yoga classes and massages in its onsite spa.