tour operators tagged posts

Lack of information and communication by authorities creates confusion and disarray in the bay.

Akumal Bay is in a state of uncertainty as well as disarray.

The declaration of the Refuge for Protected Marine Species and with that a new bay management plan now being enforced has created many problems and issues which in turn is confusing and bewildering to those visiting the bay.

The authorities have not implemented any signs, maps or any visual informational to help inform the visitors once they arrive. Additionally, the general public including Mexican nationals, guests of the hotels and resorts and rental properties are unaware that there are government authorities and other monitors in the bay and when someone approaches them when they are already in the water, they naturally react with doubt and reservation as to who the person is.

It does not help the situation either that for the past year at least there have again been groups of guides from several of the tour operator cooperatives that are now “bay monitors”. Many of these are the very same individuals from the former “Vigilance Committee” of the summer/fall of 2016 that were stalking and extorting visitors to take a tour. They were very convincing with their official looking green shirts or “bay patrol” shirts but in fact they were not any legal authority and many were reported for their actions and bad behavior towards tourists.

All of this has been circulating around in social media and over time has had very detrimental effects to Akumal tourism. Anyone that has access to these pages and have either been following the history of these events or are hearing about these incidents for the first time, would naturally be leery of ANYONE approaching them, especially when they are already in the water…let alone consider even coming to Akumal.

In a perfect world, proper informative signage with maps in English and Spanish would be placed in several strategic and visible locations in Akumal, including the beach. An effort would be put into proper training for these patrols that would include better methods to engage visitors such as basic customer service protocols, conflict resolution and that any personnel tasked with these monitoring responsibilities have good communication skills.

The government officials should speak English at the very least but if their decision is to enlist local guides, then they need to also have proper training and be able to communicate effectively (just not speak) in English. They have been sent out on a mission without the tools to carry out the mission!

And to make an effort to try to be polite and professional even educational to visitors would go a long way.

There should be visual aids by way of signage letting people know what the rules are BEFORE they enter the water. There should be someone available to answer questions or doubts. None of this is in place, but we are hopeful that it will be and very soon. The business and property owners of the bay have been requesting this from the authorities and showing them evidence of how a management plan can go very wrong if not monitored correctly.

So one wonders why there is so much conflict now with the present “vigilance committee” of Akumal Bay? And consequently, the actual government officials should be wondering why they are getting a negative reaction from tourists when they approach them…because there in fact is indeed the source of the issues plain and simple.

DEFYING THE SUSPENSION ORDER; CHALLENGING THE AUTHORITY

Earlier today several local cooperatives took guided snorkeling tours in Akumal Bay, despite the ongoing temporary suspension and the suspension notice  clearly visible on the beach.

Guide from local cooperative walks his “snorkel with turtle” tour guests past military patrol, PROFEPA and suspension notice sign

The authorities were apparently  taken off guard and started documenting evidence. They were unable to stop this activity although they followed them into the water. Some tense interactions on the beach with the rest of the guides had the military standing by.

Profepa officials were seen on the phone, but they did not get the guides to desist, although they eventually stopped on their own. This seems to be a brazen act of rebellion and lack of respect for the authority, unless something else is happening here.

In addition, cooperatives have been taking tours in after Profepa staff leave at 5pm, and as of yesterday, the Profepa staff were doing overtime and left at 7pm. We hope to get some clarity about this situation soon.

Suspension continues amidst pressure from tour operators… but for how long?

Akumal is at a very important and critical crossroads at this moment and the community as a whole has a unique opportunity to play an important role in helping to shape it’s future.

LaIMG_2266st month PROFEPA took action and temporarily suspended the snorkel with tour activities for groups—an action that deserves commendation as the bay cannot sustain the current levels of commercial activity.

However, the government is now being pressured by the local cooperatives and guides to reinstate their commercial permits. While the language of the official statement published by PROFEPA on February 15 is vague concerning permits and how qualifications for them will be determined, they do maintain their commitment to carrying out the effective monitoring and enforcement by qualified inspectors supported by federal authorities. The decisions of the authorities must be based on research, facts, scientific data and precedent with a focus on a sustainable future for Akumal Bay in the forefront.

If, however, the government surrenders to the pressure from the commercial groups and reissues permits without defined limitations and consequences, a comprehensive management plan or controlled entry/exit point to monitor the number of guests, Akumal (its ecosystems, safety and security) will be put at risk again.

Knowing that in order to create sustainable solutions that balance the economic needs of the local community with environmental impacts, guides and cooperatives should and will be part of that picture. But should that picture and future include no properly managed oversight of the people entering, tour groups, or policies? No consequences for violations and infractions? Should the welcoming image to Akumal remain as we have seen and not be improved and maintained?

Some things for everyone to consider:

  • Do you wish to see the local cooperatives set up shop again and continue sales efforts along the entrance to Akumal?
  • Do you think that the snorkel sales shacks constructed along the roadway give a welcoming impression to Akumal?
  • Do you think that the tourists enjoy being stopped by the vendors when driving into the community or walking in from the highway?
  • Is it acceptable for the authorities to allow the tour guides and cooperatives to use these haphazardly  installed snorkel sales shacks as their legal place of business?
  • Do you think that the authorities should continue to look the other way as the cooperatives and informal groups use the private property of other businesses and properties as well as the federal zone to promote and conduct sales and use it as a set up area for their tours?
  • Do you think that the authorities should legitimize and recognize all the new and “splinter” cooperatives that have popped up and are merely opportunists cashing in on the easy snorkel tour dollars? (The numbers are rising. At last count there are 59 groups, while only 20 had legal permits up to December 31 of this year).

Important Points that Need to Happen

  • the authorities must consider waiting to issue the permits until after the management and capacity limits are set so that permit holders have clear rules, laws and not just recommendations.
  • the authorities must finally realize the best option is to work with the property holder that can offer the infrastructure that is needed to allow commercial activity to happen and in a sustainable manner.
  • the authorities must limit the operating permits to those that have the proper installations or access to them. Those permitted and their guides must carry licences, be insured and have proper training including basic water safety, first aid and CPR. Operating permits should first be considered for qualified, legally established cooperatives and their guides that are from Akumal first and foremost.
  • the authorities must recognize that self-regulation by aggressive, sales-motivated guides or other representatives from cooperative groups has not worked—guides cannot be conducting business while monitoring the numbers of entries of their colleagues and friends. Alternative solutions must be found to monitor, educate and control the number of groups entering on a daily basis.

As these next developments move forward, there is a lot at stake for the stability of the entire Akumal community and with that comes some degree of concern for its security as well.

Many of the local tour operators have visited the offices of the Congress of the State of Quintana Roo and the President of the Municipality of Tulum to have their concerns heard and appeal the PROFEPA decision. They maintain that many families have now been financially affected due to this action and they are now victims of desperate economic hardship.

The redistribution of operating permits will soon be a reality that will hopefully coincide with a properly managed and enforced bay management plan. Meanwhile it has been documented that the business of snorkel tours at locations such as Yal Ku Lagoon and Half Moon Bay, have dramatically increased since the very day that the government suspension was enacted.

This very well may be one of the most critical times where the collective voices, ideas and opinions from all residents, long time visitors and guests must be heard by the various authorities. If you are in support and agreement with any of what you have read here or want to express and share your views with the various authorities and be a part of shaping the future of Akumal, please use the links below for communication. Let your voice be heard by letting the authorities know how you feel as well as how sustainable long-term solutions are essential.

Contacts

Secretaría de Tourismo (SECTUR), Enrique de la Madrid Cordero
(National Secretary of Tourim)

Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Quintana Roo, C.P. Carlos Joaquín González
(Governor of Quintana Roo)
despachodelejecutivo@qroo.gob.mx
carlos.joaquin@carlosjoaquin.com
molivares@qroo.gob.mx,

Secretario de Gobierno, Mtro. Francisco Xavier López Mena
(Secretary General of the Government)
secretaria.gobierno@qroo.gob.mx

Secretaría de Finanzas y Planeación de Q. Roo, C.P. Juan Vergara Fernández
(Ministry of Finance and Planning of Quintana Roo)
secretario@sefiplan.qroo.gob.mx

Secretaria Estatal de Turismo, Lic. Marisol Vanegas Pérez
(Ministry of State Tourism)
marisol.vanegas@qroo.gob.mx
marisol.vanegas@carlosjoaquin.com

Secretario de Seguridad Publica, Lic. Rodolfo Del Ángel Campos
(Ministry of Public Security)
mercurio@sspqroo.gob.mx
secretariosp@sspqroo.gob.mx

Fiscal General del Estado de Q. Roo, Mtro. Miguel Angel Pech Cen
(Attorney General of the State of Quintana Roo)
despacho.fiscal@fiscalia.qroo.gob.mx

PROFEPA
El Procurador Federal de Protección al Ambiente, Guillermo Haro Bélchez

(Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection)
SEMARNAT 
Secretario de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Rafael Pacchiano
(Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources)
CONANP
Comisionado Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, Lic. Alejandro del Mazo
(National Commission for Natural Protected Areas)

 

Swim with turtles tours still quietly going on despite suspension

March 10, 2017
It has been almost three weeks since PROFEPA suspended the swimming with turtles activities for commercial operators in Akumal Bay. From the suspension, it seems many operators/snorkel guides have begun to diversify their businesses. Instead of heading to Akumal Bay, they now make their way further down the road to Yalku Lagoon. Some tours are also being diverted to Half Moon Bay—an area with abundant reef located in shallow waters; an area that is not suitable for beginner snorkelers who will struggle with their equipment and buoyancy to the detriment of the fragile corals below with a kick, swipe or touch.

 

Then there is the type of business diversity that use covert operations to push the legal boundaries. Yet, if you watch closely, it isn’t all that covert.

 

Just the other day, reports an eye witness, we watched a guide talk to a group of 5 visitors. He walked the group back to the main road and they all reappeared several minutes later on the beach with snorkel and masks in hand. They gathered around the palm trees and listened to the guide who then motioned to the water and pointed somewhere along the horizon as he gave instructions. Immediately after, the guide ran into the water, dove under and swam out to the buoys where he waited for the group to join.

 

It was perfectly disguised as a group of friends going snorkeling together without a guide from the beach, shares the eye witness. But it was so obvious what was going on. As soon as the people got into the water, the guide met them and helped with their equipment, then started to lead them on a snorkeling tour of the bay.

 

The guide not only broke the suspension order by providing service, but clearly shows no environmental concern to the reasons indicated by PROFEPA for the closure for groups in the first place–the protection of the turtles, seagrass, corals. To make matters worse, the guide and the five individuals went into the water on a Red Flag day–a day where waves, current, and visibility are far from ideal–and the same day that the Harbour Captain suspended all nautical activities.

 

However, PROFEPA seems to be onto these underground, covert operatives conducting tours in plain day under their noses.

 

On Wednesday, a guide who was hawking tours and seen with two female tourists, was questioned by PROFEPA regarding his activities.

 

Apparently nothing came of the matter as he explained that the women he approached were “friends” and that he wasn’t selling or conducting tours.

 

Tourists who cover up for their guides , during a government decreed suspension or hire a guide in this clandestine manner are going against a government order.

Action Taken by Authorities in Akumal

February 15, 2017

What started as regular day, quickly turned into an unusual one with the arrival and presence of authorities taking swift action.

Authorities from PROFEPA accompanied by the Marines arrived in Akumal this morning informing the snorkel tour operators in the bay that they were required to leave and that the bay was now temporarily closed to all commercial activity.

Marines arrive with authorities to suspend snorkel with turtle activities

While many of the cooperatives seemed to be taken by surprise, it shouldn’t have been a surprise since all commercial tour operator permits expired on December 31, 2016.

Since January 1, any commercial group that was operating tours in Akumal was doing so without a permit. Akumal-based cooperatives continued to enter the bay and conduct tours without permits, as well as outside groups (both commercial and freelance) began their operations again—increasing the numbers of snorkellers on a daily basis.

Authorities have done little or nothing for the past 10 months, since the declaration of the Refuge for Protected Species in April of last year. Despite outside or unpermitted companies entering the bay or local cooperatives exceeding their daily quota of guests (12/day), there were no consequences or enforcement—the authorities simply turned a blind eye or their backs.

Today, however, was different. Action was taken.

Authorities say that this is a temporary suspension of all swim with turtles activity until permits are obtained.

From a purely environmental perspective, it’s a win. However, there are other components that need to be considered for a long-term sustainable solution and future for Akumal. There needs to be a win-win situation that balances economic, social and environmental needs.

But until that time, there are immediate pressing questions. In fact it seems there are more questions than answers or information available at this time. On our list of questions:

Permits

  • Who will get permits?
  • How many cooperatives or companies will get the permits?
  • How many guests will be allowed per day?
  • Who will oversee and ensure authorized entry of groups and that limits are not exceeded?

Zoning

  • Is there a specific zone for swimming only? For snorkelling only?

Beach Goers / Snorkellers

  • Can they rent snorkel equipment? From where? Or they expected to bring their own? Do the same recommendations regarding the use of lifejackets apply?
  • What if someone offers them a tour (since this is illegal until permits are issued)? Where do they report and to whom?
  • Who will be providing beach goers with information/education on best practices or details if the recommendations change?

Fingers crossed that in due time the authorities will be releasing more details and answering some of these immediate questions while taking steps towards long-term sustainable planning and implementation.

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