Expedia Teams with U.N. Foundation for Mexico Eco-Tours

Expedia Teams with U.N. Foundation for Mexico Eco-Tours

As part of an ongoing project to protect global heritage and fragile ecosystems around the world, the World Heritage Alliance has announced the creation of its second Employee Volunteer Program now taking place in Mexico.

The program is a key component of the WHA, a 15-member partnership founded by Expedia and the United Nations Foundation to promote sustainable travel to U.N.ESCO World Heritage sites. Expedia's program pairs company employees with community-based sustainable tourism companies to create unique, high-quality cultural and natural tours.

This month, under the umbrella of the WHA, Expedia sent a group of employees to work in Senor, a small Mayan community in the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula near the World Heritage site of Sian Ka'an. There, the employees and U.N. Foundation representatives partnered with a local tourism cooperative by the name of Xyaat (the Mayan name of a local palm plant) to develop two cultural and ecological tours that provide much-needed economic benefit to the community while simultaneously conserving and celebrating local cultures and ecosystems.

The first Xyaat tour is a traditional tour of the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon), with interpretive trails, canoeing, camping, swimming, and observation of flora and fauna. The second tour -- a culture and community tour around Senor -- offers an immersion experience in indigenous medicine, fire-making, cooking, storytelling, dances and spirituality of the Maya culture, and the manufacturing of local products such as "henequen" (rope), honey, hammocks, and arts and crafts.

"Xyaat began a few years ago as a very dynamic, community-run enterprise with a strong vision and commitment to improve the local economy, culture and environment through sustainable tourism," said Erika Harms, director of sustainable development at the U.N. Foundation. "It is exciting to watch the Expedia employees working hand-in-hand with local community leaders to address Xyaat's challenges such as business planning, product design, and marketing, with the ultimate goal of a better tourism product with greater benefit to local people."

Helping Preserve Mexico's Treasures

WHA launched its efforts in Mexico in the spring of 2006 with the inaugural implementation of the Expedia Employee Volunteer Program. For the first program, Expedia employees traveled to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to work with Community Tours Sian Ka'an -- a local, predominantly Mayan-owned tourism cooperative working to ensure protection of the delicate mix of coral reefs, mangroves, clear deep water pools, and forests, which are increasingly drawing tourists southward from nearby Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

Since the WHA project kickoff, CTSK has experienced revenue growth of more than 125 percent, and earlier this month was recognized with the prestigious Equator Prize, given biannually to the world's most innovative community sustainable development project initiatives.

The current Expedia Employee Volunteer Program will help bring the communities of Xyaat and CTSK together, facilitating local collaboration, knowledge sharing, and cross-marketing opportunities between the two groups.

The World Heritage Alliance, founded in 2005 by Expedia and the U.N. Foundation, now consists of nine members and six associate members. Every member has committed to sustainable business practices, supporting local communities, and educating travelers on the importance of World Heritage conservation and sustainable tourism.

"We are honored by the support and commitment of our partners in Mexico to advancing the mission of the World Heritage Alliance," said Pablo Castro with Expedia's Partner Services Group. "The World Heritage Alliance demonstrates the powerful impact of public- private partnerships dedicated to preserving the heritage of communities in World Heritage sites around the globe."

WHA members and partners have already begun making a positive difference in their communities. For example, WHA members Fairmont Mayakoba, Paraiso de la Bonita, and Maroma Resort and Spa and others are actively working to feature sustainable community products -- from organic honey and local artisanry, to sustainably harvested lobster -- in their hotel restaurants and gift shops. Additionally, all WHA members implement employee training programs on sustainable tourism and World Heritage conservation, and distribute educational materials to guests demonstrating how their travel choices make a difference in the destinations they visit.