What is a Destination Management Organization? And How Can a DMO Protect Coral Reefs in Cozumel?

Sandy white beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant coral reefs—it’s the type of travel destination that many of us dream of. 

Vacation season is quickly approaching and soon, millions of eager tourists will pack their bags and flock to some of the world’s most beautiful, sought-after destinations. But increased popularity means many of the natural resources in these locations are in need of protection. That’s where a Destination Management Organization (DMO) comes into play. 

Photo Credit: Fernando Jorge / Upsplash

What is a Destination Management Organization?

A DMO is a body that manages all aspects of a tourism destination. It protects nature and the area’s cultural heritage, while also maintaining its appeal to travelers. The organization brings together government, civil society, and industry stakeholders to secure funding, protect the area’s natural environments, and simultaneously boost its economy. 

Here at CORAL, we are actively involved in the development and maintenance of a DMO in Cozumel, which is only the second DMO created in Mexico. Due to the area’s lively coral reefs and a local economy reliant on them, Cozumel is an important destination to protect and a DMO will help us in that process. 

Strengthening Cozumel’s Economy

Cozumel’s coral reefs are part of the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second largest barrier reef on the planet. But in the last two years, environmental factors impacting coral reefs, like Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease and sargassum blooms, along with the devastating effects of the pandemic, have led to a significant decline in Cozumel’s tourism, an industry that accounts for 85 percent of jobs on the island.

“Cozumel will only stay a viable destination if we keep its natural environment healthy,” says Javier Pizaña-Alonso, CORAL’s Program Manager in Mexico and the local DMO’s president. “That’s why it is so important that we focus our efforts on protection—especially the protection of coral reefs.” 

Photo Credit: Jett Britnell / Ocean Image Bank

Why is Cozumel’s DMO Important?

Cozumel’s DMO is part of a bigger initiative led by our partner, The Mesoamerican Cruise Destination Network (MAR Network)

Together, we are uniting the Caribbean’s three major cruise destinations: Cozumel, Roatan, and Belize, in order to preserve Mesoamerica’s natural and cultural heritage. Each destination is developing their own DMO and is working with different sectors to meet sustainability goals and initiatives. 

“A priority of these DMOs is to protect all natural environments, including the Mesoamerican Reef” says Pizaña-Alonso. “In Cozumel, the DMO will keep its corals healthy by implementing initiatives focused on waste management, water and sanitation, and climate change.”

Bringing Together Different Sectors 

In order to fulfill long-term conservation initiatives, Pizaña-Alonso is building an ongoing relationship with the local government. 

According to Pizaña-Alonso, it is important that members of the local government want to be involved in the DMO, as it makes it much easier to secure the funds needed to support coral reef conservation. “Around the world, successful DMOs that improved the sustainable tourism dynamic were all supported by the local government and private sector,” says Pizaña-Alonso. 

This can be challenging when newly elected officials come into power; however, Pizaña-Alonso is thrilled to announce that Cozumel’s DMO is one of few local projects that has succeeded across multiple administrations. 

Through a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, we are optimistic that we can keep Cozumel’s coral reefs healthy and thriving, which in turn supports the many marine animals and people that are dependent on them. 

To learn more about Cozumel’s coral reefs and our efforts to protect them, visit our programs page here.

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