Doing It Better: Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

[Above: The town of Tequila. Photo: German Lopez from Pixabay ]

Editor’s note: With this post we offer the second of our profiles of destination organizations that at least partially meet the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s  destination-management criterion A2, which reads in part:

“The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, . . . for the management of environmental, economic, social, and cultural issues.”

The requirement seems obvious, yet very few places around the world come even remotely close to meeting it. Below is Ellen Rugh’s profile of another one that does. We hope this information will provide other places with ideas on how better to manage tourism’s hazards and benefits. To join in our search for more examples of holistic destination management, or submit a candidate for profiling, read more here.

The Council of Integral Development of Tequila A.C. (CODIT): Using Advanced Tech for Destination Management

Introduction

The town and municipality of Tequila is in the west-central state of Jalisco, Mexico. Founded in 2013 as a civic association, CODIT presents us with a broad-reaching model of a destination management organization (DMO) that uses 21st-century technological monitoring and data collecting in order to make the most informed decisions on sustainable tourism development and destination stewardship.

With its genesis through Mexico’s Magic Towns program, CODIT has managed to survive, if not thrive, through the country’s changes in government, unlike many of its Magic Towns counterparts.  Today, Tequila’s in-progress drive for certification as an “Intelligent Destination” by the Secretary of Tourism of Spain (SEGITTUR) drives many of CODIT’s core concepts. CODIT’s representative, Federico de Arteaga Vidiella, provided much of the following data. He sits on the Council and is responsible for the Intelligent Destination project.

Context

The CODIT model stretches beyond just tourism. In fact, “Sustainable Tourism Development” represents just one core concept for the organization, with additional branches dedicated to “Social Development, Culture, And Values,” “Development of Infrastructure, Environment and Urban Planning,” and “Economic, Institutional, Jurisdictional and Administrative Development.”

Working towards its certification as a SEGITTUR Intelligent Destination, CODIT gathers data from sensors, apps, smart phones, etc. to increase the effectiveness of local tourism products and services. To promote distinctive experiences, CODIT has installed Wifi access within the entire historic area and created an interactive app with push notification. Tourists can log in to learn the best photo spots, services offerings, and transportation routes around town.  Using big data to measure tourist distribution throughout the city, CODIT’s app strives to incorporate population groups that have not benefited so far from tourism. If you’re a tourist waiting for your chosen restaurant, it can suggest different places to eat or other things to do while waiting, such as a distillery tour or a walk in a different part of town.

CODIT thus opens up new opportunities for businesses, as tourists don’t end up concentrated in the historic center and eating at the few nearby restaurants. This model not only redistributes economic benefit, but also avoids visitor dissatisfaction by lowering restaurant wait times.

Activities

Tequila’s tourist system communicates experiences through different channels, such as through tourist apps, social networks, the state and federal secretaries of tourism, and private companies at the national and international level.

CODIT additionally works with the Directorate of Tourism of the City Council and with the Magic Towns Committee to schedule cultural, sporting, environmental and entertainment events. Residents get involved in a natural way, since Tequila’s society participates in many of these events, processions, and parties, either through organization, communication, direct participation, or assistance. To help develop adventure tourism in the region, CODIT has also sponsored local guides and tour operators to complete excursionist certification courses.

Sustainability and Stewardship

CODIT’s main strategy being sustainability, and the main vocation of Tequila being tourism, sustainable tourism has become CODIT’s keystone. The council considers sustainability multidisciplinary – economic, social, environmental, and institutional – and integrates explicit responsibilities for sustainability into their projects, working groups, international certifications, and more. Working groups for sustainability, innovation, technology, accessibility, and governance operate within the framework of the Magical Towns and Smart Tourist Destination Committee. Each group works to accomplish projects both within and across these themes.

As a Magic Town within the World Heritage agave landscape inscribed under UNESCO and a candidate for certification as a SEGITTUR Intelligent Destination, Tequila must therefore protect the sustainable, natural, cultural, and aesthetic character of the place. To assist in environmental protection, for instance, CODIT has implemented a recycling program and has constructed a nursery to restore endangered native plant species.

Even with tourism development being its main focus, CODIT extends its reach into other areas related to destination stewardship. For example, CODIT assisted in supporting one young local resident’s project relating to street dogs, sharing their technology and data to help him map the area, identify the location of the dogs, and decide the safest place to move them.

Managing Tourism Sustainably

CODIT states that Tequila has not yet had problems with overtourism in the destination. Tequila’s desire to achieve a sustainable tourism plan right from the beginning intrinsically incorporates the management of mass tourism. Using their Intelligent Destination technology, CODIT compares year-over-year peak season visitor statistics and identifies the major hotspot locations. With this data, they can identify the amount of traffic around the more heavily touristed historic area, for example, and install the necessary infrastructure to meet demand. They also measure transportation types and levels to ensure that people are dispersed better throughout the city, thus improving economic development.

Grilled corn vendor in Tequila. Photo by Gzzz.

Community Engagement

CODIT claims federal, state, and municipal participation, as well as inclusion of private business associations, NGOs, and local universities. These stakeholders came together to collectively set CODIT’s initial goals and long-term strategic plan. During this start-up phase, CODIT says that the stakeholders agreed upon about 70 to 80% of issues. Any issues with unsettled differences or concerns were removed, so that the long-term vision statement could be set with everyone in agreement.

CODIT cites the most effective element in their governance process has been the election of decisive leaders who represent the collective interest of local stakeholders and truly want to make changes. The council’s representative, Federico de Arteaga Vidiella, bluntly states that in certain situations extended deliberation among all community stakeholders may not be the best method to achieve results. Instead, CODIT encourages the voice of local residents through their representation by the board’s Citizen Co-President, and through consultation on specific projects. CODIT additionally urges participation from local universities, because many students and faculty are local themselves. CODIT also recognizes that local engagement depends on the character of the place. Here, where tourism and tequila production are the main vocations, they must make sure the voices of tequila farmers, distillers, and more are heard as well as hotels, restaurants, and tour operators.

For specific projects, the council understands that active communication with local stakeholders is crucial to success and local acceptance, because the residents will believe more in projects with which they can participate. On a neighborhood renewal project, for example, CODIT wanted to bring vibrancy to some less-trafficked areas with bright, new paint colors. For this simple project, CODIT conducted surveys, spoke directly with locals and civil society groups, and consulted architectural institutions in local universities to decide on the best colors to represent Tequila.

Organization Structure and Governance

CODIT was strategically founded as a civic association in order to make the organization less susceptible to changes in government and thus able to create long-term plans that would not rely on any particular political party for survival. This legal arrangement was also intended to increase business investment through tax incentives and to allow leverage of resources from international organizations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank.

CODIT does not hold scheduled internal elections and tends instead to act on consensus. Every year, for example, the council has to agree that the current citizen co-chair should continue in that role. The council does have the ability to vote out a person if needed, but so far it has never done so.

CODIT comprises of a multifaceted governance arrangement, currently composed of 44 members who fall within four main groups: founding members, active members, honorary members, and operative members. Each provides a certain level of support within the organization.

Operations and technical structure: CODIT incorporates active members, operative members, and a technical council into their organization structure. Four technical advisors and three operative personnel support the team. CODIT says that a key to their success is having a full-time, paid coordinator, as well as having both operative and strategic management on constant basis. External alliances provide crucial technical and operative resources.

Administrative and representative structure: The Board of Directors includes a citizen co-chair, a government co-chair, a secretary, a treasurer, and a spokesperson, who hold the final decision-making authority. A group of additional advisors play a role in strategic planning, including a representative from the Tequila Route and one from Grupo JB, a private company best known for their Jose Cuervo tequila. Thus a broad range of organizations can have some voice in CODIT affairs.

A jimador, an agave farmer, tends the plants that yield tequila and characterize the region’s inscription as a World Heritage site. Photo: Giacomo Bruno.

Even without formal internal elections, CODIT reports that about 20% of the council changes regularly due to external group elections. Representatives from private organizations, such as hoteliers’ associations, restaurant associations, etc, may shift representation based on their own elections. The government co-chair has rotated as the municipal government changes, with elections occurring every three years. Thus a good, naturally-occurring rotation of voices represents member interests.

Funding

CODIT works on an annual budget of around $150,000, largely financed by the federal and state secretaries of tourism and by Grupo JB. The Inter-American Development Bank has also provided project-specific funding in the past and helps support the CODIT website. Members must additionally contribute to the council through expertise, money, in-kind support, or time. One business member, for instance, seconded one of its own people to work in CODIT for a full year, documenting all tourist products offered in Tequila.

Measures of Success

CODIT attributes their success to the clear indicators and pre-established goals outlined in their long-term strategic plan. Every month CODIT evaluates progress using the indicators established by SEGITTUR within the tourism pillars of governance, sustainability, innovation, technology and accessibility. (Unfortunately, we have so far been unable to obtain any examples of progress reported.)

My Commentary

CODIT’s technical innovations and big data solutions show a new side to destination management, perhaps eliminating some of the problems that destinations face before they occur. Accessibility and connectivity drive visitors into the city by creating easy-access to information. CODIT has a firm vision and organization structure, with careful consideration taken during its inception process to ensure long-term governance that can withstand political changes affecting funding.

While CODIT has said that their funding has varied based on political changes over the years, the council’s survival attests to its careful management, especially in comparison to many other destinations originally designated under Mexico’s Magic Towns initiative.

Alternatively, CODIT can do more in terms of stewardship. I would love to see CODIT take a stronger role in partnering with local stakeholders to further develop distinctive tourism experiences. Additionally, the data collected shows little evidence of any vetting process for their promotional materials that places greater emphasize tourism businesses who have championed sustainability or supported their communities through impact tourism.

Local stakeholder engagement is key to holistic destination management. Compared to our other case studies, this council does not stress community deliberative processes, although they do gather project-specific community feedback and include a wide array of public, private, and civil society interests within their governance structure.

In this case, further research would be required to collect more evidence of outreach to ensure local resident satisfaction, or evidence of adaptive strategy. Additionally, while CODIT champions sustainability and transparency, we found difficulties in accessing the documents relating to the performance of CODIT in terms of SEGITTUR’s specific indicators. This is crucial to understanding their exact performance in project implementation and sustainability, and establishing credibility beyond self-reported claims.

We welcome comments from those with knowledge of Tequila and its stewardship.

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