UNM Today

Contact Us
Current Issue
Editorial Policies
Previous Issues
Publication Dates

Subscribe to
email edition



Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: August 19, 2002
Volume 38, Number 3

Planning for eco-tourism
UNM, Mexican university collaborate

By Carolyn Gonzales

Claudia Isaac, fifth from left, and students near a palapa in Quintana Roo. Photo courtesy of Claudia Issac.

Students and faculty from UNM and the Universidad de Quintana Roo (UQROO) recently conducted a summer field studio on eco-tourism and rural development with area residents. UQROO is located in Chetumal, Mexico.

Tourism possibilities seem as clear as the water in Laguna Guerrero in Mexico’s southern coastal region.

UNM School of Architecture and Planning (SAAP) then-Interim Dean Ric Richardson and the rector at UQROO signed a cooperative agreement. The collaboration evolved from a joint research and student exchange agreement, or convenio, between the SAAP and the University of Quintana Roo.

Six students from UNM’s Community and Regional Planning Program, Marjo Curgus, Monica Delgado, James Easterling, Darcie Johnson, James Scholz and Adriana Villar, took part in the program.

Four Environmental Engineering students from UQROO also took part in the six-week program.

“The seminar is a capstone course for advanced planning students. It’s an applied workshop for a client. The students pay for their travel and expenses through grants, loans and their own funds,” says David Henkel, associate professor and SAAP Community and Regional Planning director.

Prior to the summer trip, the students took the course Cultural Aspects of Community Development. During the course they traveled to Anapra, a colonia on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.

“Ours is a culturally and historically sensitive approach to community-based planning. The students have to get on board with it and be ready to conduct client-based work,” says Henkel.

From UQROO’s Division of Sciences and Engineering, faculty members guiding the field course were Francisco Rosado-May, professor and director of the Integrated Coastal Resources Management Program and Susanne Kissmann, an instructor in the same program. Kissmann is a graduate of the master’s CRP program at UNM; Rosado-May spent a sabbatical semester at the SAAP to develop a plan to create a master’s degree in planning at UQROO.

Laguna Guerrero is entirely within the southern Yucatan state of Quintana Roo and empties onto the Bahía de Chetumal, shared by Quintana Roo and Belize. Like neighboring Cancun and Cozumel, Laguna Guerrero has tremendous eco-tourism possibilities. Unlike those resort areas, however, Laguna Guerrero would like to satisfy the appetites of the tourists, but “with lower impacts,” says Isaac.

“We held a sondeo, a rapid appraisal method where the students gathered base information on the critical environmental, social and physical factors that exist in the community,” says Claudia Isaac, associate professor of CRP and director of UNM Latin American Studies.

Currently the area is dotted with palapas, open huts with thatched roofs where campers can sling a hammock. “They’re by the lagoon. It’s great as long as you have mosquito netting,” says Isaac. The area also features four restaurants that serve really good seafood, she says. Tourists can also take bird watching tours.

The students also had to review formal government and local documentation and plans, and interview residents. “The students had to walk through the fields to get a sense of the shape and infrastructure of the community. They had to understand how the land is used,” says Henkel.

The community planning process involved understanding the physical resources and limitations, including means of income. It meant listening to and understanding what the people wanted and developing a sketch.

“We had to draw a picture – not presenting a narrow view. Are we getting it? Is this right? We would take the feedback and edit, modify and sharpen the perspective,” says Isaac. That process took three weeks.

Community members shared their ideas with the student team who produced technical assistance materials for recreational program development, equipment manufacture and infrastructure design.
The students and their teachers, together with interested community leaders, put together five groups. One looked at the viability of a kayak business. “They wanted assistance in getting the product out and developing a business plan,” says Isaac.

The second group worked to find ways to make the restaurants known in Chetumal. “The restaurants could appeal to both the insiders and outsiders,” she says.

A third group looked at infrastructure. “The area has inadequate drainage and sewage systems. We looked at ways to catch rain water to support ecological development methods,” says Henkel.

The fourth group looked at land use. Those who had plans to construct tourist lodging hadn’t had collective conversations before about crowding and location issues. The students helped them with basic land use planning to make decisions on how best to site cabañas around the lake. She says they also looked at other forms of lodging with a bath or shower for the “non-palapa” visitor.

Finally, the fifth group looked at ways to include women in the community’s economic development. The women’s group was interested in a sewing enterprise where they could sew lifejackets for the kayak business and curtains, tablecloths and more for the restaurants.

Ultimately, the students served as facilitators at a meeting with the community members. “It proved very successful. Everybody came and there’s an ongoing commitment to continue the collaboration. The community has come far enough to put together a tourism package,” says Henkel.