Students from Duke University are collaborating with P1tLab to help rural community members in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, develop their ecotourism business.
Playa Grande is a Mexican ejido, where land is jointly owned by a group of 70 community members. Residents of Playa Grande, like many rural communities in Mexico, participate in government-funded conservation programs where community members receive monetary compensation in exchange for their involvement in the sustainable management and stewardship of communal natural resources. Their conservation activities include fire prevention, protection against illegal logging and hunting, and maintaining corridors for jaguar protection.
Ejido Playa Grande is part of a small group of communities that decided to invest their conservation program earnings into an ecotourism business, which is jointly owned by community members. Their company has been growing but community members are looking to improve their business strategy in order to attract more customers, as well as to transition to a renewable energy strategy to power their tourist center.
A common problem encountered by rural communities in Mexico is that it is difficult to access experts that can provide specialized assistance in fields such as business, marketing, and engineering. To remedy this situation, students at Duke University have created Economic Sustainability, which is an initiative that connects rural community members to “student experts” that assist residents with their business and engineering needs. Over the summer of 2017, four students traveled to Puerto Vallarta to help the community develop a business plan and a solar strategy that will power the kitchen in their tourist center.
The Economic Sustainability project is also partnering with NC State's P1tLab, whose students, faculty, and staff provide guidance on the community’s marketing and business strategy. Due to the very competitive and vertically integrated nature of the tourism industry in the region, this community is struggling to “capture” visitors from the international enclave destination of Puerto Vallarta. Through this partnership with Duke University and NC State’s P1tLab members of Ejido Playa Grande will attempt to penetrate local retail monopolies to advertise their services directly to potential visitors.
By Ruxandra Popovic, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment