Wege Prize 2018 – Circular Tourism Mexico (1st Place) Final Presentation and Q&A


So next to the stage, we want
to welcome Emiliano Iturriaga. And he is presenting for the
team Circular Turismo México. He comes to us from
Monterey Institute of Technology in Mexico. Emiliano, welcome. Thanks so much. How does it feel– [APPLAUSE] How does it feel to be one of
the five last-standing teams of a global competition? Well, it feels nice actually. It feels also very nice to
be here with a whole team. They are over there. [INTERPOSING VOICES] It was very close. Well, best of luck. Thanks so much. Hi, well, I’m Emiliano. I’m representing my team today. As I said, most of us are here. I’m very happy for that. And I want to start by telling
you this story about El Vente. So El Vente, it’s a
small Mayan community in the rain forest
of Calakmul, which is in the Mexican Southeast. Now, for the last
few decades, they have been basing their economy
on logging, on caddle breeding, and in palm oil production. Now, six years ago, Mayan
ruins were discovered inside their territory. So suddenly, the small dirt
road that was only used by them was used by tour buses that
came full of people, straight to the rainforests and
the ruins without even stopping by the village. So there is one
woman, Dona Rosa, and she saw the huge
opportunity that is represented for
creating a sustainable income for the whole community. So she started
organizing everyone. Her son became a birdwatcher. One of the hunters
became a hiking guide. All the artisans got together
and built a little workshop. And she even got funds
from the government to build accommodation. So it was an indigenous
tourism cooperative. Now, the big day of
the opening arrived, and no one showed up,
nor in the whole year. And today, it has
been three years since they launched
this project, and they had received nothing
but a couple of tourists. And the critical thing
here is that the case of Dona Rosa and El Vente is
not one isolated, rare case. It’s actually just one of at
least 2,000 indigenous tourism cooperatives in Mexico that
are struggling to take off. In Mexico, 70% of
the indigenous land is considered a high
conservation priority. So they are living in the
ecologically-richest areas of the country. However, 73% of them
still live with an income under the poverty line. And at the same time
this is happening, we have in the country a
fast-growing ecotourism industry that is growing
at a rate of 17% yearly. And so do you see
the problem here? It’s a massive
ecotourism industry, a multimillionaire
ecotourism industry that could be improving the
lives of millions of people while assuring conservation. But because it is based
on an extractive system, it is wasting all the
regenerative potential of a circular economy. So after seeing this, we built
an interdisciplinary team, and we started
visiting those co-ops, understanding what their
main challenges were. And we asked ourselves first
the question, how can we create a bridge that
connects indigenous tourism cooperatives with all these
travelers that are looking for authentic experiences? And after doing all this– well, there’s a
picture of the visits. Anyways, there we go. We realized that
they have everything you would think that’s
essential for success, because they have
the natural capital. They have the cultural capital,
the human capital as well. And they have the
organizational capital. And they even have
the infrastructure. There we go. But we found that they have
two massive obstacles that keep them away from success. In first place, they are not
designing attractive trips, because they have no ways
of knowing what is it that the tourists want. And then they are
isolated, therefore they don’t have the
critical mass, the know-how, or the tools to market
themselves to wider markets. There we go. I’m sorry. So after knowing this,
we started designing. And we had people
from the community and based in the
traditional practices. And we made Rutopía. So Rutopía is a platform that
gave us all these indigenous tourism cooperatives the tools
that they need for creating and selling their experiences
in an effective way, and all based in a circular
economy perspective. So there we go. So we have trade tools
for creating value for the communities in Rutopía. The first one is creating
attractive experiences. So we help them create
attractive experiences. We designed a low-cost process
of remote co-design that allows them to– well, what we do is we collect
data from the tourists. And we translate all
this to specific metrics. And then the co-ops
can use these metrics to track their improvement. Like for example,
they can see how other co-ops that scored
high in those specific areas are achieving so. And they can also try to
improve their own services. And then secondly, we
invest in communities that are engaged in conservation. So this diagram that I
am about to show you– maybe you can help me with– next one, next one. Next one. There. So I’m just going
to leave those here. So this might look
a little complex, but it’s actually very simple. It means that 10%
of all our income is being held in a fund
that periodically rewards communities that are engaged in
conservation, through some kind of specific indicators. So you can think of
it as a mechanism to naturally invest
in the ecosystems, as if they were natural
infrastructure for terrorism. Can you pause the next one? And finally, we
can connect co-ops with loyal and
profitable markets. And using a web-based platform,
and some other channels– can you please
pause the next one– we can connect them with
international and international markets that individual
communities have not been able to achieve
on their own so far. And this is all
possible because– well, it’s actually
economically self-sustained. And this is possible
because by taking out of the value chain the external
operators and retailers, a lot of resources are
unlocked while increasing the local economic spillover. Because sometimes they take
up to 90% of the income. So by doing this, this allows us
to charge a commission straight to the tourist on top of the
price already established by the local co-op. Now this whole change
in the value chain has a much deeper implication
than just more money for the locals, because
it is a whole paradigm change in the way tourism
has historically been done within indigenous communities. Because we do not seek to
be a business that brings tours to see
indigenous communities. We seek to be a collaborative
tool built as a platform co-operative that
create communities are capable themselves to create
and operate their own tours. And this change in
paradigm is very important for understanding
why we can build a path for a circular economy. Please the next one. Because when it is
the community itself that is gaining economic income
and recognition from keeping its ecosystems and
traditions alive, then a whole process starts. First, there is a re-evaluation
of the natural and cultural capitals. Then, there is a re-investment
of effort and resources to preserve that capital. And then, there is a
regeneration of the capital. Next one, please. This whole thing
started last year, at the beginning of last year. We did a lot of field
and theoretical research. But as soon as we
could, we started prototyping and validating. And so far, we have
validated with 106 travelers. And we have created an income
of almost $4,500 US dollars. An almost fucntional prototype
platform with Wix and a lot of Google firms as well– a lot. And most importantly, we have
created a very solid network of setting communities that are
very motivated, very engaged, and that are getting very
good services right now. So we have learned a
lot of each trip we have done with the communities. It has been very important for
redesigning our whole model. And if you’re wondering
how this whole thing looks like actually, we prepared
a one-minute video just to give you a quick insight. [BEGIN VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [END VIDEO PLAYBACK] So this is a little
bit of we have been doing with seven communities. But for next year, we want
to have 25 communities, and we want to have a
fully-functional platform that actually allows us to
give them full services. And we think we’ll be
making around $40,000 US dollars monthly for the whole
network, if we achieve this. Actually, our dream
in the long term, it’s to really change
the whole system. Because we know there are
millions of people out there that are looking for trips
that are authentic connection with people. And we know how
hard it is for them to find the communities,
their destinations. And we know how hard it is for
the communities to find them. So this is the reason why
we are building Rutopía. So, well, thank you very much
in the name of all of the team, our mentors that are
watching us right now, and of course all our
partners in the communities that we’ll show them
that video later. Maybe. And thank you very
much, especially for the Wege Foundation. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Emiliano. Great work. We’ll let the judges
prepare some questions. In the meantime,
how do I become one of your prototype travelers? You should come right away. I’m in 100%. We heard that you
have a blog that you publish on your travels. So could you talk about that? Yes. So it’s actually called Travel
Without Being a Tourist. And I started three years ago. And it’s all because– I think it’s very
important, when you travel, to have these
deep connection with the place that you are actually staying
and actually creating awareness of the situation of the
country, especially if it’s a developing country I think. So this blog I write is about
the stories and challenges that the people that have hosted
me around the world are facing. You can read it. It’s in Spanish. And what’s it called? Travel Without Being a Tourist. Travel Without Being a Tourist. Beautiful. Yeah, that’s the name. Incredible. Thanks. Well, good for you. So I’m curious, have you gleaned
any great stories already from your prototype travelers,
of experiences that they’ve had or ways that they feel
more deeply connected to the culture? Yes. We’ve learned something
that was very surprising and it’s that what they
value the most– because they love their waterfalls. They love the nature, watching
monkeys in their wilderness and everything. But what they value the most
is that they’re actually able to sit in the table with
the people from the place and just understand and
hear how people understand the world in completely
different ways that sometimes
they do, or we do. So I think that’s the
thing they value the most. That’s beautiful. And it’s very rewarding as well. That’s exciting, very exciting. Wonderful. Thanks. Judges, are we ready
for some questions? Yes. Great. Take it away. OK. Good luck. Thanks. OK. Emiliano, it was a
super presentation. Thank you very much. Thanks. So you’ve described the
circular economy in a way that a lot of people don’t, by
focusing on cultural aspects. Most of the time, people will
look at circular economy, and they’ll talk about, say,
regeneration of the soil, talk about flow of materials. Could you tell me a little
bit more about your thinking and how you’ve applied
the circular economy to this project? Yes, for sure. So I think two basic
pillars of circular economy are keeping the resources
at their highest values and also being
regenerative by design. So the current extractive
system on tourism in Mexico, and I think in a lot of
developing countries, is that they’re extracting a lot
of value from their ecosystems and the cultural heritage
of the local culture, but they’re mostly not giving
anything back to this system. So this is slowly depleting the
traditions and the ecosystems. And this is translated
in practical like people don’t speak
their language anymore. Kids don’t want to learn the
ethnic languages because they don’t give it any value. So we are like closing the
loop of the circular economy because not only in the economic
sense they are receiving money for preserving their environment
and their traditions, but also they are
seeing these people coming from the other
side of the world wanting to learn their
languages, wanting to see how they do their
traditional dressings. For example, all of
the traditional dresses from the communities we visit. So I think this is how
the culture can also be regenerated by tourism. Actually, I have two questions
about the consequences. Assuming that you’re successful,
how do the external tourist operators that currently exist–
how are they going to react? Because you know they will. Yes. So how will, like,
competitors react to this? Yes. Because this is going
to cut into their money in a serious way. Yes. Well, I think they
won’t be happy. [LAUGHTER] Exactly. Yes. That’s for sure. Well, for example, one of our
communities, [INAUDIBLE]—- they are very close to Cancun,
actually, in the Riviera Maya. They have been for the last five
years being with an agreement with an Italian
company that charges around $80 for taking
tourists in quad. And they go into their jungle,
and they see everything. And then they go in one day. And from those $80, they give
the community $4 US dollars. So, yeah, they’re
going to like it. But also, the
communities are going to be very competitive,
because they are going to maybe have smaller margins. But they’re going
to employ a lot of the people of the community. So even if they react, the
ecosystems is not theirs. The cultural heritage, all
the activities is not theirs. So, yes, I think we’re
prepared for that. Well, the follow-on question
is about the competition between these
indigenous communities then, because you’re
setting up a situation where they will be for the first
time competing with each other within the system for
the same tourists. And how do you keep that
competition healthy and not unhealthy? OK. So first, the network
is nationwide. So we don’t have
any case yet where they have very similar
value propositions. We have some that have
very nice hotels that have been funded by the government. Others only have a
little camp shard where you can go and put your tent. So we don’t have that yet. But in the long term, in case
we would start having that, we will be built as a
platform comparative. That was actually a concept
that we got from Alicia that was very useful. Thanks so much. And this makes a symbiosis. So if they are
member-owners, because they own some shares of
the whole network, and not only have
their projects, they will have very
strong incentives to make everyone success. So they can also make symbiosis. So it cannot be
just one community. Maybe we can make
trips that are like, hey, visit these
four communities, and then everybody
wins a little bit. Thank you. No problem. My question is– so success
for you in this project– do you have an
idea of how you’re going to cap some of this? Because you’re dealing
with conservation. You’re dealing with
remote areas that you’re going to be trying to go to. Are you concerned at all? Because it sounds
like a great idea that could really take off. What would you see as
being the maximum in terms of your success on this? Or will you say,
enough is enough. We don’t want to
continue in this path because we’re starting to affect
the area or the environment? So right now, Mexico has a
very big tourism industry. Last year, we broke
records for example. We know there’s– last year,
40 million tourists came to Mexico. Of course, we know that’s not
the cap, because most of them are going to the resorts
and all-inclusives. We have not found
very accurate data on how many actually
adventure and ecotourism travelers are going to Mexico. We have the number
that a couple of years ago it was $3,500 million US
that just eco and adventure tourism were making in Mexico. So that would be our cap. And I think it’s very
important to note as well that all the
communities, they already have these projects developed,
ecotourist projects. So they have all the
charging capacity– I think that’s the
term in English– charging capacity studies made. So what happens is,
if they’re starting to increase their
demand, and they’re trying to have a
lot of tourists, well, they can play with a
quality-price spectrum, right? So they can start offering
more premium service and maybe lower a
little bit of volume. So they have that training
in most of the cases. Thanks. No problem. You talked about
regeneration, that there’s a problem of the lack of
the regenerative aspect of ecotourism. What does success look like
in terms of regeneration with your solution? I’m going to give you a very,
very quick example of how we think we achieve regeneration
in one cycle of these tours. In one of the communities
we have been working in, we made a trip. And in the surveys’ general
comment of all the tourists was that it was very
nice, everything. But they had a lot of trash
surrounding the village, because all the trash,
they dumped it in one side. So we gave this report
to the community, and they said, well, we
want to receive tourism. We want them to go happy. So they sent us
pictures later that they used the money, part
of the money they earned, to hire a truck. And all the community cleaned
that whole part of the jungle. And then it’s clean. And the next group is going
to have a very clean jungle. So that’s just, in a very,
very, very short term, how we regenerated a small
part of the jungle that was just beside of the jungle– I mean of the little village. But in the long term, it
looks like, well, they have these massive areas
of native ecosystem. If they are gaining economic
value from keeping them alive, they’re not going to have any
reason to cut them down and put palm oil in trees, for example. And this has actually
been tested in Mexico. We have a prototype that– in a big scale,
because, well, we don’t have the funds
to do that yet. But in Mexico, there’s something
called environmental services payment. And it has worked pretty well. So they give them money
from the government to preserve some areas of
their native ecosystem, and it has worked very well. So that’s why we think
it’s going to help. Thank you. And minding time– I
have other questions, but I’m going to
let [INAUDIBLE].. Oh, that’s fine. Yes. Building on that theme, I think
one of the strongest parts is the idea that providing
a platform for your actual– the community members
to choose and actually participate in
creating local value. And I think one
question I have in that is that how are you going
to– you say you are going to encourage or support
investment in communities, or tourism in communities, that
do conserve their ecosystem, that do actually put value
back into ecosystem services. How are you going to
make those choices? I’m just curious
of actually being able to say, monitor or provide
feedback or understanding. How are you going to make
sure that that happens in terms of making sure that the
communities who are part of it are putting money back
into ecosystem services? What’s the mechanisms
you’re going to use? That’s been one
of the challenges. We have developed some
indicators so far. We want to keep them as
low-cost as possible. So so far, we have
used indicators that are easily verifiable
by tourists themselves. So for example, do they
have good waste management? Is it clean? Are they sourcing all
from local materials and not buying plastic
things from outside? And also– and I think that’s
going to be the most important part– is the satellite
images of forest mass. The government already has that. It’s free, available for free. So you can actually
track very accurately and how well-preserved
the ecosystem is. So we have 30 seconds left. I want to sneak
one more in, which is maybe somewhat different
of a question– safety. So there are reports– and certainly the US media is
not the best source of this. But how will you ensure safety
of these foreigners that are coming into very
remote areas of Mexico given some of the dynamics
that have been at play there for many years? So safety is one of
our main concerns. Mexico– actually, we are
working in areas that are safe. For example, because
the violence in Mexico is very focalized. For example, Campeche, which
is the state in which Dona Rosa is, she has a
high crime rate of 0.86 per 100,000 habitants. And that’s lower than any
state in the US for example. So we’re working in
areas that are very safe. Touché. [LAUGHTER] And then we are going to also
be providing reviews systems and like direct connection
with the communities. Because when you
go with the locals, well, they know where to go. They know where
you shouldn’t go. They know how to get
there, and they’re the first ones interested in
keeping you well and happy. Thank you. So, yeah, that’s where
we’re going to do that. Thank you. Great. [APPLAUSE]

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