Developing a master plan to guide the successful implementation of sustainable tourism development in the Sierra La Giganta Corridor of Baja, Mexico
- Client: Resources Legacy Fund
- Partners: RED Sustainable Travel
- Project Duration: January 2013 – June 2014
Towering over the Gulf of California, the Sierra la Giganta range captivates visitors with its stark contrast of arid and pristine mountains that plunge deep into the blue of the Sea of Cortez. From the rugged tradition of local rancheros to the easy warmth and hospitality of coastal fishermen, this coastal corridor represents the heart of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Options for employment in Sierra la Giganta are scarce, which has lead to flight to urban centers and a resulting breakdown of social structure and traditional values and culture. The corridor’s biodiversity is threatened by extractive economic activities ranging from overfishing to mining. The megaproyecto model of large hotels in urban centers such as Cabo San Lucas make up an important part of the offerings available in the state, yet are limited in their regional impact, and are projected to grow at a stagnant pace over the next decade.
Sustainable tourism as a sector is growing three times faster than general travel, and is an under tapped resource in the state. Development of the Sierra la Giganta Coastal corridor as a sustainable destination provides an opportunity to capitalize on this growth and diversify the tourism offering in Baja California Sur. It also presents a valuable opportunity for diverse state, federal and municipal agencies to partner with communities and the private sector.
With support from the Resources Legacy Fund, tourism specialists Solimar International and RED Sustainable Travel worked to identify opportunities that link tourism, biodiversity conservation, and local communities in Sierra la Giganta. The project assessed tourism potential in the region, documented opportunities, and created a vision for tourism in the corridor that preserves the natural and cultural heritage that makes the corridor one of the most wild and unique places on earth. In a country whose traditional tourism model has focused on massive and generic destinations, creating a sustainable tourism destination in Sierra la Giganta presents a unique opportunity to illustrate the increasing market demand for authentic destinations, and the power tourism holds to support conservation and economic growth.
The vision for the corridor is based on a network of complementary product offerings under one promotional banner. The destination will offer authentic experiences, cultural interaction, quality and service, and up close contact with the wildlife of the marine and sierra environments that make the coastal corridor a unique and world-class destination.
Products and Services
As an emerging destination, sustainable tourism development in Sierra la Giganta depends upon a well-connected network of complimentary and demand-driven tourism products. Anchor investments, such as high-end ecolodges, help to not only draw visitors to the corridor but also increase their time spent in the region, thus deepening the local economic impact of tourism. Developing a broad and well-integrated value chain offers the core tourism services that a complete destination requires, including:
- Lodging: from high-end ecolodges to community-run cabañas
- Transportation: interconnected terrestrial and marine services that move travelers throughout the region
- Food production: emphasizing locally raised products based on traditional and sustainable practices
- Arts and Crafts: opening new markets for local artisans and promoting artistic traditions
- Guide services: from kayaking to trekking, developing a core of highly trained, bilingual guides
The development of these products and services are helping Sierra la Giganta appeal to diverse and complementary niche markets, and also diversify and expand the current product offering for La Paz and Loreto tour operators.
- Tourism Assessment Process: The first stage of the project assessed the demand of niche market segments, identified specific product opportunities, and clarified the diverse needs of those opportunities, including investment, marketing, and training. The tourism assessment process also identified key stakeholders – including governmental representatives, NGOs, academia, communities and private sector partners – whose support and synergy is vital to establishing the destination.
- Destination Management Strategy: The destination management strategy guides the vision of tourism development in the corridor for years to come, and addresses all of the elements of the destination, from attractions to accessibility. In addition, it outlines the roles and responsibilities of regional stakeholders, as well as defines the desired “environment” for tourism development in the region – from tourism policies to conservation strategies.
- Business Planning: Next, the project developed business plans for the most viable tourism products in the corridor. The business plans present the product opportunities in a clear, concise, and intriguing manner – and serve as a powerful tool to attract investment in the region. Contents of the business plans include descriptions of tourism products and services, business structure, leadership and management, operations plans, sales and marketing strategies, competition analysis, sustainability planning (linkages to environmental and social benefits), and pro forma financial projections.
- Investment Promotion: Due to the fact that Sierra La Giganta is a nascent destination that will require outside investment to flourish, this includes activities that present the business plans and investment opportunities and needs a range of national and international funding sources – from impact investors to foundations and grant programs.
- Creation of a Tourism Assessment Report that provides a clear analysis of the conditions, opportunities, and challenges that need to be considered in the developing sustainable tourism in the Sierra la Giganta region
- Creation of three business plans that document viable tourism concepts that can be developed in the region that would support both sustainable economic growth as well as support conservation objectives
- Promotion of the business cases with potential donors and investors to secure the funding required to launch the sustainable tourism concepts
- Development of a Destination Management Strategy that clearly defines a sustainable vision for all the elements that make up a destination (attractions, amenities, access, human resources, marketing, and pricing) as well as identifies the roles and responsibilities of local stakeholders in the realization of that vision.