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Wednesday,  June 12, 2024 10:51 AM 

On Location: Air Transat & Iberostar give students a hands-on lesson in sustainable tourism

  • Hotels
  •   05-17-2024  10:22 am
  •   Jessica Huras

On Location: Air Transat & Iberostar give students a hands-on lesson in sustainable tourism
Fourteen students and professor Chris Choi (far right) from the University of Guelph participated in this year’s Journey for Change program at Iberostar Paraiso del Mar in Riviera Maya, Mexico. (Pax Global Media)
Jessica Huras

The fourth edition of the Journey for Change program kicked off on April 27, with Air Transat teaming up with Iberostar Hotels & Resorts and the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management for a unique international field study program.

PAX flew to Mexico to see the program in action, joining fourteen students, who were welcomed to Iberostar Paraiso del Mar in Riviera Maya to get a hands-on education in sustainable tourism. 

“We chose to partner with Iberostar because, with tourism being the industry that it is, it's important to find new ways to evolve and new ways to be a little bit gentler on the environment,” said Marie-Ève Vallières, senior advisor, public relations and content for Air Transat, speaking to PAX via phone.

Journey for Change was hosted at Iberostar Paraiso del Mar in Riviera Maya. (Pax Global Media)

Vallières said Transat hopes to positively influence the next generation of travellers by offering this immersive perspective on eco-friendly tourism.

“It's not just being in school and learning about sustainable tourism – it's being right at that destination learning about sustainable tourism,” she said. “They get to experience what it’s like to be a tourist themselves at a resort in Mexico and see everything first-hand.”

On the ground at Paraiso del Mar 

Throughout the seven-day program, students participated in a variety of eco-friendly experiences and workshops supported by Iberostar, including talking with community members focused on conserving cenotes, participating in a beach clean-up and getting a closer look at Iberostar’s waste reduction initiatives at the resort.

Students learned about cenotes conservation on a tour with Bejil-Ha. (Pax Global Media)

“It's a very broad range of topics, but it all comes down to being a better tourist and the different ways we can do that,” said Vallières.

Lyn Santos Rodriguez, coastal health manager, Americas at Iberostar Group, delivered a presentation to the students on Wave of Change, Iberostar’s responsible tourism program.

“Over 90 per cent of our hotels are located in coastal areas…we depend on the coastal area, we depend upon the environment and we depend on the people who live in the area,” said Rodriguez. “That’s why Iberostar decided to become a tool to improve the wellness of these coastal areas.” 

Lyn Santos Rodriguez, coastal health manager, Americas, Iberostar Group. (Pax Global Media)

Rodriguez shared some of Iberostar’s ambitious green goals, including eliminating all landfill waste created by their properties by 2025 and becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Students, meanwhile, had a chance to tour Paraiso del Mar’s on-site coral lab, which is dedicated to researching and preserving coral reefs.

They also went behind-the-scenes in the kitchen to see the innovative Winnow system in action, which has helped Iberostar reduce food waste at its properties by 12 per cent since 2022.

The Winnow system guides Iberostar’s culinary team in planning menus that minimize food waste. (Pax Global Media)

Rodriguez highlighted the brand’s focus on sustainability as a collective effort. “We’re trying to move forward the whole hotel industry in the region to implement things we’ve already implemented here or to implement new initiatives together,” she said.

“When we talk about sustainability we cannot talk about competition – we need to talk about collaboration.”

Learning to be better tourists

The students were accompanied by Chris Choi, a professor with the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.

“They come from diverse fields, including landscape architecture, geology and hospitality and tourism management,” Choi said, speaking to PAX. “By travelling to this location, and this facility, they can remind themselves how to be responsible tourists and hopefully become ambassadors in their fields.”

Choi added that he sees Journey for Change as an opportunity for the students to develop critical thinking skills around what it truly means to be a greener tourist.

Beachside at Iberostar Paraiso del Mar. (Pax Global Media)

In addition to applauding Iberostar’s sustainability achievements, he encouraged the students to ask tough questions about the efficacy of the brand’s eco efforts and identify areas for improvement.

As part of the program, students will draft reports deep diving on different elements of Iberostar’s green initiatives. Choi will then collect and summarize their overall feedback for Iberostar.

“If we can give Iberostar some good ideas based on our report, then that will be an additional achievement for us,” he said.

Choi hopes the experience will teach the students that individual efforts can have a big impact.

“I think there’s a perception when it comes to sustainability that I’m only one person and I can’t change the world,” he said. “But don’t talk about others – if you start to do this, then others will follow.”

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