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The Indigenous Tourism Network of Mexico: Positive Benefits & Sustainable Livelihoods


The Indigenous Tourism Network of Mexico (RITA) - Red Indígena De Turismo De México - ( promotes indigenous community development by raising awareness about biodiversity using a collaborative and participatory approach. The Network mobilizes indigenous communities to overcome economic marginalization by developing sustainable ecotourism projects and natural resource based micro-enterprises.

The Network has over 5,000 members from 17 indigenous groups across 15 states. It attracts investment, finds markets for local products, and advocates for indigenous rights. The Network also offers training services focused on improving the operational, administrative, and financial capacity of indigenous micro-enterprises. Artisans are trained to use local materials, and to cultivate herbal and medicinal plants. ‘Tourism circuits’ are established to direct income generating opportunities to Network members.

This best practice provides an overview of the initial work done by RITA. A lot of progress has been made in the last few years since they won the Equator Prize. More aspects of RITA's work will be covered in following best practices - both in Spanish and English.

Problem, challenge or context: 

This best practice addresses Aichi Biodiversity Target One, which states, “By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.” It addresses RITA’s work to promote indigenous tourism and responsible resource management in Mexico. RITA is instrumental in spreading awareness about the importance of ecotourism, indigenous communities, sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in the Mexican tourist circuit.

Specific elements of components: 

Mexico is among the most biologically diverse countries in world. The majority of the country’s biodiversity is located in indigenous territories. RITA was created to address the marginalization of indigenous people in Mexico, who traditionally attain the lowest levels of well-being, . despite being located in territories with abundant biodiversity and rich natural resources. When compared to the rest of the nation, indigenous communities tend to have low educational attainment, poor employment opportunities and low income. According to Mexico’s 2005 population and housing census (the latest available at the time of writing), nine million indigenous people, comprising 14% of the national population, live in 5,700 rural communities in central and southern Mexico in extreme poverty.

The action taken:
RITA seeks to promote ‘indigenous tourism’ as a substantial source of economic development in indigenous regions. The knowledge of indigenous communities is also integrated into conservation projects and used to develop alternative uses of the biological and cultural diversity of their territories. The goal is to attain a higher income and to provide means for families and communities to improve their social and economic situations through a sustainable process of development.

RITA was created in 2002, when representatives of 32 indigenous tourism companies met in Trinidad Tlaxcala and decided to create a network of indigenous tourism groups that was led and managed by indigenous people. Today, RITA is comprised of 160 micro-enterprises, many of which are also involved in one of 13 regional sub-networks. RITA builds strong partnerships with government institutions and civil society, which creates opportunities for collaboration and negotiation on resource management issues to the benefit of the indigenous enterprises.

RITA conducts an annual National Tourism Fair in states where member companies are active. Activities at the fairs include: expositions and sales of tourism services; sales of indigenous art and cuisine; displays of indigenous music and dance; panels on indigenous tourism; and sources of financing for tourism companies.

RITA also provides training services to its member micro-enterprises, with a focus on improving their operational, administrative and financial capacity. The initiative also provides training to indigenous members to enhance their skills and teach them techniques to manage, operate and market their own products and services. RITA holds workshops to improve business skills, with topics ranging from the concept of biodiversity as an alternative for development in indigenous villages - to the management of ecotourism within protected areas - to the management of computer equipment and the procurement of internet services. The workshops are held in several states to facilitate greater attendance.

RITA evaluates all of their activities and services to determine their effectives, to document and share best practices, allowing members to learn from each other’s successes and challenges. Between 2005 and 2008, RITA provided computers to 34 micro-enterprises, created 16 promotional videos, designed and printed brochures for the promotion of 32 micro-enterprises, and designed and hosted 16 websites. RITA also created and evaluated 32 tourist projects for its member companies.

Key lessons learned: 

To create an effective and sustainable indigenous-led biodiversity conservation project in Mexico, a few key principals are important for communities to keep in mind:

• Prioritize cultural achievements and traditional knowledge.
• Ensure that development plans address local concerns and are measurable in the short and medium term.
• Ensure that the input of advisers and consultants is appropriate for local conditions.
• Ensure that interventions are focused on providing permanent (not temporary) employment.
• Prioritize the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
• Educate communities so that they have a clear understanding of all required administrative, legal and marketing tools, so that a lack of this knowledge does not inadvertently undermine progress.
• Enhance the capacity of indigenous communities to handle administrative, legal and commercial challenges, which will improve their ability to adapt to change and overcome competition successfully.
• Remember that information technology will only assist with a project’s success - it is only a means to support the organization and the daily management of a company

Impacts and outcomes: 

Increase in network members: RITA is comprised of 160 micro-enterprises, many of which are also involved in one of its 13 regional sub-networks.

Partnership with Mexico’s Wildlife Management Conservation Unit program: RITA is part of Mexico’s Wildlife Management Conservation Unit program (Unidad de Manejo Ambiental - UMA). This legal tool is used by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico to encourage the use and conservation of biodiversity by indigenous and local communities in national territories. UMA status requires the land or other resources be used in a manner that conserves existing natural resources, directly or indirectly, under a plan for sustainable management. In turn, the landowners retain the economic benefits derived from the resources. Several of RITA’s territories have been granted UMA status. For example, two units were designated adjacent to the Tzararacua Waterfall in Michoacan, one for the white-tailed deer and the other for the iguana. In Xochimilco, one unit was designated at a biological station for the conservation of the axolotl, an endangered endemic species.

Protecting habitats: Through the work of its member companies, RITA has protected several important habitats. For example, in Guerrero, the community is responsible for managing the famous Cacahuamilpa grottos, one of the largest cave systems in the world. In Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro in Michoacán, the community operates a forest reserve of over 11,000 hectares that surrounds the Paricutín Volcano and the Tancítaro mountain range. In Kantemó in Quintana Roo, the community maintains a reserve of deciduous forest, and bats, snakes, and protects the aquatic species living in the Cave of the Hanging Snakes.

Capacity Building: Through workshops, RITA emphasizes the importance of the measurement and monitoring aspects of its work. This involves systematizing and preparing relevant reports to present to the Council level of companies or communities and taking necessary actions. Each tourism micro-enterprise formulates its own monitoring and measurement system in accordance with the surrounding environment and uses traditional indigenous methods to measure the biodiversity impacts of their work.

Partnerships: Some RITA micro-enterprises have also partnered with the Mexican government to conserve biodiversity. For example, in Cacahuamilpa, the government, represented by the National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP), in partnership with local people succeeded in generating income while also promoting environmental conservation.

Long-term Employment: When RITA was established in 2002, the 32 micro-enterprises that comprised the network had poor infrastructure and were not operating to their fullest potential. With RITA’s assistance, they have been able to develop projects that provide a range of integrated services such as cabanas, restaurants, trails and saunas. These enterprises result in increased income and permanent employment to members companies.

Inclusive approach - Gender Mainstreaming & Youth: RITA ensures that the project benefits are shared as widely as possible in the communities it works with, especially with women and the youth. Approximately ,500 women are beneficiaries of the initiative. Some companies are fully comprised of women. Many programs allow for some of the revenue to be directed towards infrastructure improvements to support schools, improve medical services, and pay for paving and sewage systems. In Capulálpam de Mendez in Oaxaca, community resources management applied for the town’s acceptance into the Federal Tourism Ministry’s ‘Magical Towns’ program. This program preserves and promotes the culture, ecology and history of towns throughout Mexico. As part of this program, communities receive funding from the national government to develop concepts and services in order to attract visitors and improve local infrastructure.

Policy Impact: RITA’s members often participate as speakers at various forums and workshops on environmental issues and indigenous rights. These workshops and forums present a platform for RITA to advocate for policy change regarding the attitudes towards indigenous peoples. RITA advocates that indigenous peoples must be considered an entity capable of representing their portion of the national population. Additionally, several RITA members serve on Advisory Councils, which are legal bodies created by the Mexican state.

Representation at international Forums: In 2009, RITA representatives participated in the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15) in Copenhagen. They took part in the preparation of the indigenous manifesto on global biodiversity conservation. RITA also participated in COP16 UNFCCC, in Cancun, Mexico in 2010. As part of Latin American representation of indigenous peoples, RITA’s Coordinator on Climate Change has influenced international forums, including the 2010 Mérida Declaration of the Third Mesoamerican Congress of Protected Areas.

Advocacy: In the Tlahuica region of Mexico, agricultural judicial authorities gave a favorable verdict to RITA communities that resulted in the local indigenous community being granted control over almost 24,000 hectares in the area of the Zempoala lagoons. This decision, after half a century of litigation, was achieved after RITA had contact with and contributed to the empowerment of community leaders from the town of San Juan Atzingo.

Indigenous Business Chamber of Mexico: RITA plans to establish an indigenous chamber of business, dedicated to promoting and representing more than one million micro and small enterprises in the fight against poverty. ,
The Chamber will develop a proactive plan to integrate other sectors into the organization and bring together people from similar industrial, tourism, or service sectors to share best practices.

Contact details: 
Berenice Sánchez, Email, Phone number: +52 (55) 5676 1340, Address: Callejón de Emiliano Zapata 66, Barrio La Concepción Tlacoapa, CP 16000, Xochimilco, México DF, MEXICO, Phone number: +52 (55) 5676 1340, Website: http://www.rita.
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