Honey

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

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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

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.

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.”

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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.

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.