For a vast number of people travelling to Mexico, their immediate thought is “all-inclusive”. While the fly and flop vacation can be appealing, a growing trend in travel experiences exists, allowing you leave a positive impact on the country you are visiting. Whether you choose a voluntour trip, a multi-day adventure or a day trip with a responsible tour operator, making smart choices ensures these destinations are around for future generations.
Our partner, RED Travel Mexico, provides expertly crafted single day, multi-day, and conservation holidays for travellers seeking an alternative; travellers who seek to make a difference. Their tours and conservation holidays help to provide data to conservation efforts, as well as bring tourists up close to wildlife in a responsible, exciting way.
We had a few questions for Chris Pesenti, Co-Founder and Director General of RED Travel Mexico, about their beginnings, their vision, what the future holds and a few little extras. Find out more about this wonderful organization:
Tell us about the history of RED Travel Mexico
Luis Garduño and I started RED in 2009 with the realization that conservation efforts in northwest Mexico were often leaving the human element out of the equation and were falling short of their goals. We launched RED to bridge conservation and economics, providing experiences that generate tangible benefits for species and habitat conservation, while at the same time creating sustainable employment opportunities. In a moment of brilliance (Luis’s) we decided to launch RED as a hybrid. This consisted on one end of a business focused on creating tourism products out of conservation projects, always with a focus on inclusive value chains (distributing the economic impact rather than concentrating it), and a nonprofit organization providing training and micro-enterprise incubation, as well as developing programs to help government agencies (SEMARNAT, CONANP) manage tourism in a more sustainable manner. Together they’ve done an incredible job on all fronts, but it hasn’t been easy and there is a long way to go.
What excites you about hosting travellers on a RED Travel Mexico tour or voluntour trip?
I always see travel with RED as a two-way street. Many travellers, whether students or people on vacation look to volunteer and give something back, but they end up taking much more away from the experience, often unexpectedly. A lot of times travellers’ greatest impact is realized by just travelling responsibly. A lot of our travellers come for an experience with animals but in the end, the human experience, the person to person exchange has a much greater impact on them.
What makes for a great group travel experience?
Diversity. I love it when we get mixed groups, lots of times from Canada and the U.S. with Mexicans all travelling our region of Baja California Sur for the first time. It’s new to everybody.
What makes for a great tour operator?
At RED we consider ourselves students of regenerative development. We took the word sustainable out of our business name because we feel that sustaining things the way they are isn’t good enough. We look to make a positive impact on our surroundings including the species and habitat where we operate, the local communities that are part of our team either as employees or strategic partners, and also to make a positive impact on our travellers. We also try to do a lot of listening.
What unique experiences can travellers look forward to on a RED Travel Mexico trip?
As I explain below, the unique way in which we look at product development means that travellers will come into contact with people in a way that wouldn’t ordinarily happen on a regular old tour. And it’s all about the people. Interacting with a sea turtle poacher – turned conservationist, or a ranchero family that opens their doors to groups of students to collaborate on a reforestation project, or a young local woman who played a part in creating our unique Walking Tour of La Paz – their stories and experiences make travelling with RED unique. Oh, and we don’t yield on quality. So whether you are up at night monitoring sea turtles with fishermen, or visiting the Sierras on the back of a mule – you will eat well and sleep comfortably.
What cultural or social changes have you seen in the local communities since operating RED Travel Mexico?
I was recently invited by our nonprofit arm to give a workshop on Product Development to a handful of micro-micro enterprises(that’s not a typo). These were mostly women with small restaurants, and a few others with tours and services, all located in a remote region between La Paz and Loreto. Following the workshop, there was a marketplace where we invited established operators, from kayak companies to mini-luxury cruises to come and learn and give feedback. It was amazing to see the business to business bonds created and yield fruit (travellers on the ground) just a couple weeks later.
A couple years back we developed a reforestation project with local families and the National Parks Commission in the Sierra de la Laguna. Whereas the Parks agency lacks the budget and human power to continue, we are able to keep the project running with student groups. And the ranchero families we work with have started providing tourism services on the side, even when we aren’t there which is great.
These are just two examples. In conjunction with our nonprofit arm, we’ve been able to make a tremendous impact in states throughout northwest Mexico.
What are your greatest challenges as a tour operator?
Our operational model isn’t the most efficient – instead of internalizing all operations like most companies, we view product development and operation through the filter of value chains. How can we include members from rural communities in our value chain? What kind of training do they require? How can we include NGO partners in schemes that generate a direct benefit for their work. While this approach takes a lot of energy, patience, and resources, in the long run, it’s what keeps us true to our vision, generates positive impact, and makes for more robust, genuine experiences. It’s also a lot more fun and interesting.
If you weren’t operating group travel tours what would you be doing?
When we launched RED, we saw tourism as a platform for conservation and socio-economic development. So it could be anything with that focus.
If you force me to step away from that world, maybe an emergency medical technician or a pop-up chef. I enjoy teaching too.
If you could hop on a plane and go anywhere in the world for a vacation, where would you go?
That’s easy, I’d go visit my Mom.
What’s the future for RED Travel Mexico?
To expand our vision of tourism – with a focus on species and habitat conservation, inclusive growth and regenerative value chains throughout Mexico and beyond. Just like Pinky and Cerebro – conquistar el mundo!
RED Travel Mexico trips can be found on GoVoluntouring, SEEtheWILD and Trek Union. Also, make sure to check out their website, and join their communities on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!
Sarah is an independent contractor with specialization in content writing and social media management for the travel industry. After many years as a travel agent, she switched gears to focus on promoting responsible travel through Holidays for Humanity. Sarah currently writes content for and manages social media for all Holidays for Humanity brands including SEEtheWILD, Trek Union and GoVoluntouring. When not working, Sarah can be found searching for her next travel destination or exploring Vancouver’s dog-friendly parks and trails with her dog, Otto.
You can read more of Sarah's personal travels on her blog www.sarahseizetheworld.com