Mexico

Giving the honey coop a buzz

muchkaab

Yesterday, I had my first ever Skype call with the Much Kaab honey cooperative in Mexico. The group has only recently had the internet installed so I was bracing myself for some technical difficulties. To my pleasant surprise, the whole group appeared on screen with full video and audio. They looked happy, focused and prepared.

They described how they are taking ownership of their business. For example they are planning to travel from their small village to meet with a hotel manager to explain why their prices have gone up. I asked what they’d say, and without hesitation they replied:

“Because they are now made from all natural ingredients, which are better for the environment and for your customers. It also allows us to make a living from this business.”

As the call progressed I noticed something different about them, compared to last year.  They seemed more confident in themselves and in interacting with me. They seem to have taken control of the business and been empowered by becoming more independent, since our direct support ended last year.

Their hard work is starting to be rewarded financially too. They told me that their main hotel client, the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe, following a consultation with guests, has doubled the number of rooms featuring Much Kaab products, therefore doubling their orders of shampoo and soap each month. 

As a result the group has been able to pay each of its eight members a regular salary for the past three months. Things are looking positive, as that same hotel chain has plans to embed this policy of local procurement into their business and also stock Much Kaab products in their hotel on the island of Cozumel.

It’s very motivating to see the results of this pilot project, yet at the same time I am aware that this is just one group in one community and that there is potential to connect lots of other small local businesses to the tourism supply chain.

The Travel Foundation’s new strategy, and the programme of work we’re developing in Mexico, is to work at a more strategic level, in order to have a wider impact in the region.

By Terry Brown, Destinations Programme Officer

lesbia_terry_wedding_042-2

Advertisements

Honey cooperative treated like the bee’s knees

Much Kaab

“It’s important that the guests know that these were made with Mayan hands, and with the bee-keeping knowledge that we’ve inherited from our grandparents that helps us save the Melipona bee, the importance of this bee for the environment, and the medicinal properties of its honey, which can be found in our products.”

– Rosalinda, Much Kaab

This April, the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe hotel renewed its arrangement to buy the newly-branded Much Kaab products. The group were invited to deliver the products personally and were received by the hotel’s General manager, Carlos da Silva, Housekeeping Managers Elvia Marcial and Oscar Escobedo.

From their welcome cocktail onwards the women got the VIP treatment, touring the hotel to see the journey their products make to the luxury suites and villas.  The visit concluded with lunch in the staff dining room, with a view of the lagoon.

“Thanks to Much Kaab the hotel can offer a unique product; a product that has been sampled by over guests from over 12 nationalities (americans, Canadians, English, French, Japonese, Brazilians, Argentians, Italians…”

– Mr Da Silva, General Manager

The re-branded honey-based toiletries have a natural formula, and are now being distributed via local wholesaler La Confitería.

The General Manager added that he was grateful to the Travel Foundation, and local
wholesaler, for having introduced him to the world of local procurement, and announced that he was doubling the amount of rooms featuring the toiletries. He is also considering stocking them in another hotel on the island of Cozumel.Yuri

 

By Yuritzin Flores, Mexico Programme Manager

Expanding horizons on the Riviera Maya

Mexico Much Kaab women working.jpgWe’ve been working with the Much Kaab co-operative in Mexico since 2009, helping them build a business selling products, such as soap and shampoo, made from Melipona bee honey.

Now, 6 years later, we feel that we’re really beginning to make a difference. Here’s why:

  • The first phase of the project was about the conservation of the stingless bee, and the Mayan tradition of keeping Melipona bees. We established healthy colonies and bee keeping practises. Great stuff – but where’s the tourism link?
  • We moved on to helping the group formally become a co-operative, and develop their skills to enable them to run a business. All good stuff, but again, where’s the link? Where’s the impact?
  • We worked with the co-operative to develop products suitable for the tourism market, bringing together the co-operative and the private sector. There’s the link!
  • The Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe was the first hotel to sign a purchasing agreement with the co-operative. They initially purchased the products for sale in their gift shop, and then also introduced them into guest rooms. Two more hotels followed suit (Grand Palladium Riviera Maya and Karisma Hotels and Resorts Riviera Maya), stocking the products in their gift shops. This was a huge step forward for the co-operative. Impact! But we’re not quite there yet…

Mexico Much Kaab honey products.jpgObviously, a lot has happened over the years to develop the Much Kaab business (you can read more on the project history here). The aim was to develop a viable and sustainable business for the group, which has been achieved. Success? Absolutely, but it’s about so much more than this.

For us, the real impact is this:

  • The hotel has introduced a ‘friendly’ procurement policy for local suppliers, such as 50% upfront payments and 50% final payment no longer than 7 days after delivery. This is a huge step forward, considering the hotel industry usually takes 3 to 6 months to release payments.
  • The hotel are so pleased with the products that they are considering introducing them into their sister property in Cozumel.

Mr Carlos da Silva, general manager of the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe, recently visited the co-operative, and said:

“Now that I’ve met with Much Kaab Cooperative, I’m very pleased to see first-hand that through our local procurement policy we are contributing to the growth of this amazing group of Mayan women. It has given me a better appreciation and a broader understanding of what goes in to each and every single shampoo or soap bar that is placed in our Villas.”

It’s been a pleasure to bridge the gap between a local supplier and a large scale tourism business, and watch them both reap the benefits of their new relationship. It’s so important that the tourism industry opens its eyes to the value that local suppliers can bring (and vice versa), and I hope this project can be a great inspiration to others in the industry.

Yuri and TerryWritten by Terry and Yuri.

Terry and Yuri help to manage the programme of work in Mexico. Click on their names to read more about them.

Getting a buzz out of volunteering…

Every year, TUI employees have the opportunity to apply for ‘Project Discovery’, a volunteering scheme exclusive to TUI, whereby Travel Foundation matches employee skills to those needed on overseas projects.

Alex and RosieMost recently, successful applicants Alex Morris, Senior Retail Marketing Manager, and Rosie Sumner, Product Manager, jetted off to sunny Cancun, Mexico, on 9th August to begin their placement. Here they explain what they’ve been up to whilst they’ve been away:

“Our volunteering project is building upon the success of the Jungle Jams project. Supporting a local Maya cooperative ‘Muuch Kaab’ to sell their honey-based products to tourism-focused businesses and the domestic community. This provides the community with the opportunity to earn a living from tourism, without the need to move away from their villages and families. The project also helps to support the conservation efforts of the Melipona honey bee, which is a unique stingless bee that is in danger of becoming extinct.

Our aim is to support the development of Muuch Kaab’s branding and marketing, whilst guiding two hotels (El Dorado Royale Spa & Resorts and Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe) on communicating ‘buying locally’ to their guests.”

Alex says….

‘From day one we’ve been really busy – meeting the local Travel Foundation representatives, visiting the rural community where the project is based, meeting local hoteliers and talking to customers to understand their views on sustainability practices and local produce’.

Rosie says..

‘For me it’s been an incredible experience to understand how these women have overcome so many challenges and yet still managed to grow their business so successfully from scratch. There’s such a huge contrast between the simple lives they lead in their village, and the hustle and bustle of Cancun which is just an hour’s drive away. It’s a side to Cancún that tourists never really get to see, and it’s really made me realise how important it is that TUI as a tour operator and the wider tourism industry here in Mexico work together to support communities like this’.

brand workshopDuring their time in Cancun, one of the elements of the trip was to deliver a branding and marketing workshop to the community group. Alex says…

‘One of the highlights of the trip has been delivering a branding and marketing workshop to the Muuch Kaab group- we decided to use similar techniques to how we would normally work here in head office, with mood boards and sample beauty products for them to touch and feel. We gathered some really useful feedback on what they want their brand to look like going forwards and sketched out some new designs for them. It was a unique experience and one I’ll never forget’.

Rosie and Alex have a few more days remaining in Cancun, when they’ll be visiting the members of Muuch Kaab one last time to share their findings and feedback, and visiting some local hoteliers to deliver their recommendations on how they improve the communication of their local procurement policies.

And it’s not all hard work, as Rosie explains:

‘Although our itinerary is jam packed with meetings and report writing, we have a few days off whilst we’re here – we’re planning to visit Isla Mujeres on our last day and we’ve also been out visiting some of our other key hotel concepts in between exploring the local area – we’re trying to fit in as much as possible before we head back to our desks in Luton!’

Project Discovery provides extra capacity and expertise on Travel Foundation overseas projects. It also helps build an understanding of sustainability for those who work in the industry, but have UK based desk jobs.

Tourism through a lens…

Last month we asked Chris Willan, professional photographer, to capture our activities in Jamaica and Mexico. It’s the first time Chris has shot for us in these locations, so we asked him to share his experience. He’s back from his trip and here’s what he had to say…

The brief arrives from TF. What’s your first thought? Be honest!

You always have a huge shopping list! It was a massive brief, but I like a challenge, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve shot in both locations before, but Mexico was more of an unknown for me, I’d not really been off the beaten track before so I was really excited about going to some of the villages and visiting a pearl farm. When you first said Cancun I just thought of hotel strips, I could not have been more surprised. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable trips I have done in a long time. It has everything, you just need to know where to find it.

You visited the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Jamaica, what do you think holidaymakers will enjoy most? Arlene

Having arrived via a beautiful tropical garden, Arlene greets you, and introduces you to the concept behind the village, and then you have to go barefoot through the river to reach the village. It’s only ankle deep and is a lovely experience. You’re given a stave and encouraged to celebrate water and the life it gives, which is very important in Rastafari culture. It’s a great sensory experience – most people don’t do that on a daily basis! Throughout the day you learn lots about the Rastafari lifestyle, and the Emperor Haile Selassie I from Ethiopia, and why it became a way of living and a religion. I actually knew a fair bit about this because I was born in East Africa and my father has a picture of me next to the Emperor Haile Selassie I when he was on a state visit to Uganda!

You spent some time in Montego Bay, did you find any hidden charms?

I find as a traveller the most charming things are the real things, real life happening. I prefer quieter places to reflect and my favourite place here was Dump-Up Beach, one of the few public beaches left; it’s where the locals gather. I just liked sitting down there watching people play football, and seeing families gather. It had a real community feel, and I really like seeing people enjoying the place naturally, when you know it’s not a spectacle for tourism. It has a feel that it’s ‘real’ Jamaica.

In Mexico, you visited two communities in the Yucatan peninsula, one making jam and the other honey products. What are their surroundings like?

HoneyFirstly, I visited the jam making community in Chumpon. The indication that we’d arrived was an enormous tree in the centre of the village – their Trafalgar square! My first thought was that there isn’t very much there, a little shop, and some houses varying in their construction, some modern and some very traditional. There’s quite a lot of contrast – modern cars parked outside very traditional houses, and the jam factory is modern and well equipped. One thing that really stood out with this group was that they were so grateful to the project because it would mean that their children wouldn’t need to leave the village to go and work in hotels in Cancun. They could continue with their traditional way of life, and they really appreciated that they could continue to live this way. The village that’s home to the group making honey products had a very similar feel, again a big tree marking the centre. A lot of the village seemed very engaged with the project, and they were very welcoming and accepting. It was a really enjoyable experience, but I was a bit against the clock! Sometimes you need to put a bit of gasoline on the fire to get the shots you need. There is so much to learn from the Mayan culture, they’re great to listen to and it leaves a lot of questions about how we live today.

You met a lot of people during your time overseas. Who sticks in your mind, and why?

YuriYuritzin Flores, TF’s programme manager in Mexico. She has an aura around her that just says she is the perfect person for the job, I have never seen anyone so welcomed by so many people in so few days. She’s hard working, was concerned with everything going smoothly, constantly sending messages to update everyone if we were running late etc. She was the stand out personality – you can often feel like the lone warrior in sustainable tourism, but through her you realise there is actually an army of people out there concerned with the same thing.

PaulineIn Jamaica, it would have to be Pauline at the craft market in Mo Bay. She took me under her wing and made sure I was ok, she got me some food, we had a laugh together and everytime I went past the market she’d give me a big wave and made sure everyone else made me welcome too. She made me feel like I was travelling with my mum – if anything was wrong I knew I could go to Pauline and she’d make it all ok!

Every good photographer needs to keep their energy up with some good food. What dishes shone in Jamaica, and in Mexico?

In Jamaica my best meal was rice and peas and goat curry in the market in Mo Bay. There isn’t much meat in a goat curry, and you will get told off if you don’t suck the bones! It’s spicy and definitely very Jamaica. The fresh juices were also great. I sat eating it on a broken chair with lots of people around me doing the same, it made me feel like I was at a family dinner.

In Mexico everything is great, but I’d have to choose the handmade tortillas I had in Chumpon. Everyone ate communally in a central building with a thatched roof, and the tortillas came with a paste made from roast pumkpin seeds, tomatoes, shallots, fresh cheese (which is like cottage cheese in the UK), and sauces, all washed down with Pitahi juice. It was absolutely delicious. For me though, food isn’t just about taste, it’s about experience, and getting to eat with the locals, and watching them prepare it from scratch was great.

Down to the nitty gritty…Jamaica – favourite picture? Just one! And why?

DumpUpDump-Up Beach, it was the end of the day and I knew within 20 minutes they’d be no light left for the rest of the day, the light was good and I got the perfect shot of locals playing football on the beach.

IslaMujersSame goes for Mexico…

Again, it was the end of the day and I was waiting for the sun to go down over Isla Mujeres and I was watching some pelicans flying around. I often think the ‘end of the day’ pictures sum up how your day went. The sunset gave a feeling of calm, and the energy was coming from the Pelicans – it really summed up how the trip had gone.

That’s why you become a photographer. The camera has given me a passport to an amazing life, taking pictures is the first and last thing I think about every day, and at 51 I’m still looking forward to my best years. With photography you can get better as time goes on, the experience gives you the understanding you need to get a great picture.

Getting micro-enterprises out of a jam

Jam project, Mexico, local communityIt is the 5 year anniversary of our Jungle Jams project and we’ve seen some startling results:

By mid 2014, the Maya women had sold a total of 7,793kg of jam products, generating a total income of £57,597 since the start of the project in 2009.

“I remember our meeting with the Travel Foundation back then (autumn 2008), when the Travel Foundation presented their work plan saying that by the end of 2009 we will be achieving commercial links with the Azul Sensatori… we said yes, but we thought this was going to be another broken dream, it took us a while to realise we are living a dream.” Homobona Dzul (Ema)

TUI UK and Ireland sponsored the project for four years between 2009 and 2012. The jam-makers received training and capacity building to support product development, marketing, infrastructure and business development, and the creation of new supply chain linkages. The group is now running a successful micro-enterprise.

Since the project has ended the business has continued to thrive. They have had an average annual growth rate of 13.5% and Jam sales have generated an average of £16,000 each year compared to an average of £300 pre-project. The group has also negotiated contracts with several more large hotels.

“I’ve been saving money from the jams profit, thanks to that I was able to purchase 608 bricks to build a house in a nearby town (Felipe Carrillo Puerto) so my sons will have a place to stay when they move there to study a degree, I need to work hard as in just three years the oldest one will be in junior high!”  María Caamal

With increased confidence, the group have been growing their businesses by presenting at events and trade fairs (Latin American Food Shows 2011 & 2012, Sustainable Tourism Expo 2012-2014, Women’s Rights conference 2014,) and challenging traditional gender roles within their families and the wider community.

Jungle Jams, Mexico

Read more about the Jungle Jams project > 

Watch the video of jam-making in action >

 

Green pledges bear fruit in Mexico

Sustainable Tourism Expo

Terry Brown, our new Destination Officer, recently visited Mexico, meeting local and regional government, NGOs, hotel associations, hotel representatives, tour operators and local entrepreneurs.

The focus of the visit was the 7th Sustainable Tourism Expo (formerly known as ‘Green Expo Riviera Maya’), which is a platform to bring together green businesses, local producers and the tourism industry.

“One of the things many people were enthusiastic about was connecting Maya communities to the tourism industry, involving commercialising Maya crafts and tours to jungles, communities, and ‘cenotes.’ ‘Cenotes’ are natural wells which lead to beautiful underground rivers.”

As part of this event The Travel Foundation presented 11 awards to tourism businesses, NGOs and local businesses who fulfilled their ‘commitments to conservation’, made the previous year. See this video (in Spanish) to find out more about the successful green pledges.

We were pleased to see the Abejitas Melipona honey cooperative ‘Much Kaab’ and the Pitahi ‘jungle jams’ group proudly presenting their products at the expo. The groups attracted lots of interest in their products, achieving so many direct sales they had to send for more stock.

Both groups also now have commercial agreements with various hotel chains thanks to the Green Pledges initiative and hard work of our Programme Coordinator in Mexico, Yuri Flores.

“It was great to meet so many people from the region that are passionate about sustainability and are working towards preserving what is such a beautiful destination alongside the massive projected growth of tourism along the Riviera Maya, an area which already receives over 4 million visitors a year.”

20141015_190639

 

Melipona beekeepers deliver first order of honey products to hotel

Much Kaab Cooperative packing honey products for hotel

The Travel Foundation’s Melipona bee project in Mexico started to pay dividends recently, as the Much Kaab female beekeeping cooperative despatched their first order of honey products to a hotel.

The Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe received its first delivery of toiletries containing the honey – which is supposed to have special healing powers – on time and on spec. Guests in the VIP section of the hotel will be offered a soap “cheeseboard” on arrival, with a choice of different soaps.

The order for more than 1,000 items – including shampoo, shower gel and soap ­­– earned over £2,400 for the beekeepers. Keen to work with local suppliers, the hotel agreed to special terms and conditions of payment that benefit small business such as the Much Kaab cooperative.

Much Kaab Cooperative making soap

Araceli, president of the cooperative, said, “I want to show society that we can reach success, we can reach our goals and rise against all odds. As a group mainly of women we are doing something to banish discrimination against women.”

The group’s administration manager, Mirna, who is expecting her fourth child, said, “I’m using this money to buy the first clothes and diapers for my soon-to-be-born baby.”

Another member of the group, Erlinda, added, “I’m willing to save money to take my boy to rehab and buy medications, as he is a boy with special needs. I know of other children who have received this care and they have a better quality of life… my kid deserves that as well.”

Maya communities in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have been keeping stingless Melipona bees for centuries. Sadly, numbers of these special bees are declining rapidly and the bees are threatened with extinction. It is estimated that there has been a 93% decrease in hives in the last 25 years.

As part of a project set up with funding from Thomas Cook and Co-operative Travel, the Travel Foundation planted 450 fruit trees to boost the bees’ natural habitat, and provided extra bee boxes and training. Now we’re helping the beekeepers to make a living by selling honey products to hotels. The products are branded “Much Kaab”, meaning united or working bees.

New turtle protection tool launched on World Turtle Day

Turtle in sea_1_hires

Today is World Turtle Day! And to celebrate we’ve launched a brand new turtle protection tool, designed to help hotels, tour operators, excursion providers and other tourism businesses become more “turtle friendly”.

Based on findings from a pilot scheme with four Karisma hotels in Mexico, the free online tool is packed with information and resources about beach management, excursion planning, staff training and customer communications.

The tool was developed in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Dr Peter Richardson, Biodiversity Programme Manager at MCS, said, “This valuable web resource should help make UK tourism far more friendly to threatened turtle populations around the world.”

Visit the new turtle protection tool

Beekeepers in Mexico welcome donation of worm boxes

Beekeepers at our Melipona bee project in Mexico are benefiting from a donation of 15 worm composting boxes and one ton of worm fertilizer thanks to local NGO Aldea Verde.

Much Kaab Cooperative beekeepers with Francisco Niembro, Aldea Verde CEO (second from left) and Yuri Flores, the Travel Foundation's Mexico Programme Coordinator (right)

Much Kaab Cooperative beekeepers with Francisco Niembro, Aldea Verde CEO (second from left) and Yuri Flores, the Travel Foundation’s Mexico Programme Coordinator (right)

The new equipment will allow Much Kaab Cooperative to deal with waste generated at home and as a result of their soap and skincare production. The worm boxes will produce organic, chemical-free fertilizer, which can be used to improve soil conditions in the group’s bee nursery and vegetable gardens.

Aldea Verde CEO Francisco Niembro presented the donation in person, and delivered a workshop to give the beekeepers a better understanding of vermiculture and worm handling, and how this will benefit the Melipona bee project.

Much Kaab Cooperative member Adelaida Puc

Much Kaab Cooperative member Adelaida Puc

The alliance between Aldea Verde and the beekeeping cooperative is a result of Green Pledges arranged by the Travel Foundation at Green Expo 2013 in Mexico, with the aim of creating links between NGOs, local producers and the travel industry.

Compostamex and Palace Resorts helped with logistics, as the donation had to travel from the centre of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.