Posted by: ecodestination | July 20, 2008

Save Tulum, Mexico

It’s too bad local governments don’t do more to protect and support these types of establishments, rather than promoting massive development. One example that has been all over the internet and the international news lately is the closing of several ECO HOTELS in Tulum, located in the heart of the Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Tulum has been known as an eco destination for years, with a string of rustic boutique cabanas along the coast. Travelers that have been enjoying this area for years say that Tulum is changing. With the increase in visitors over the years, land prices are through the roof, accommodations are increasing in price, and an airport is scheduled to be built nearby.

You can’t stop progress, of course, but development can be planned differently. Unfortunately, it looks like the same mega resorts that have popped up all along the Riviera Maya coastline south of Playa del Carmen are trying to push their way into Tulum.

The first change was the opening of the Eurostars Blue hotel (formerly called Azul Blue) in Tulum, located at the entrance to the Tulum hotel (cabana) zone. This hotel is a giant concrete nightmare, with electricity wired in from the Tulum pueblo (all other hotels along the coast operate without electricity, using solar or eolic power, or small generators).

The second major change is now under construction: Aldea Zamá (translated as Zamá Village, formerly known as Downtown Tulum). The website describes this development as a combination of lots for single family homes, commercial and town center lots, and luxury condos. It’s located in what is now a lush patch of green tropical jungle between Tulum pueblo and the boutique cabana zone on the beach.

It’s also located next to a “golf, spa, and residential resort” that includes part of the Tulum coastline (this is the latest update on their website. The original map included the golf course as part of the entire project). ANOTHER golf course on the beach in the Riviera Maya? I think we can start saying goodbye to the thriving coral reef located offshore, which has been a major attraction for divers and snorkelers for years.

Naturally, the travelers who have enjoyed Tulum for years (many return on an annual basis, some even multiple times a year), are concerned about this mega development, which will surely change the feel of what used to be a haven for travelers seeking a relaxing vacation in a natural environment. The other day on, I read the following: “It’s like killing the Goose that laid the golden egg, and selling it as fried chicken.” (username: mimac)

When will local governments start to realize the value of preserving the smaller eco destinations? The average hotel rates in Tulum have skyrocketed over the years, changing this destination from a backpacker’s haven to an eco getaway where many of the boutique cabanas boast higher rack rates than the average AI.

The small eco developments of Tulum have, of course, much less impact on all levels: they require fewer staff members and can usually rely on hiring locals rather than importing staff from other communities around the country, causing major problems with lack of housing and an abrupt culture change with such a large influx of residents from other regions. The sudden overpopulation caused by the construction of mega resorts also contributes to sudden need for infrastructure in areas that lack it, and increased contamination. Because they have fewer staff members, small hotels don’t require huge tour buses to cart their staff from neighboring communities to the workplace.

In the case of Aldea Zamá, such a huge development in this specific region risks contamination of the underground rivers and cenote system that is located right beneath the property and which is connected with the massive river/cenote system that lies below the entire region. Delicate mangroves are vital for survival of the coral reefs offshore, and are endangered by this megaconstruction.

Travelers are increasingly willing to pay more for an eco hotel rather than a giant concrete box filled with marble. It’s low impact and more unique.

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  1. Great article. Unfortunatley with land prices soaring in Tulum as more foreigners buy and open boutique hotels, locals are priced out of the market, it was inevitable that the bigger resorts would move in, it’s the same progression you see time and again around the world. First comes small foreing investment followed by the big boys…

  2. I agree that development is inevitable, however the type of development is what’s important. The investment required to build a small eco-hotel is minimal compared to a concrete box AI, but room rates can often be higher at eco establishments. Why aren’t more developers doing the math (and thinking about the environment)?!

  3. […] (See our post from last year, “Save Tulum, Mexico”) […]

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