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Published February 26, 2008 10:39 AM

Playa Viva Resort Strengthens Local Living Economy in Mexico Community

ZIHUATANEJO, MEXICO—As consumers embrace ecotourism as “travel with ethics”, one resort is looking beyond simply reusing towels and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, to actively investing in its community and strengthening the area’s long-term economic viability. Located on the west coast of Mexico near Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa in the town of Juluchuca, Playa Viva is demonstrating that a truly sustainable resort invests in people, in place, and in principles.

“Buying their land and then employing locals as housekeepers is not a sustainable business model for anyone,” said David Leventhal, founder of Playa Viva. “We can only have a vibrant successful project if the surrounding community is thriving, healthy, and self-sufficient, today and well in to the future.”


The Playa Viva team is concerned about the water local residents’ drink, the air they breathe, and the quality of food they grow. To improve water quality in this agrarian region, Playa Viva has organized four trainings and workshops on the value of organic practices to reduce pesticide use and improve water quality. Farmers saw the merits immediately but lacked the markets for organic foods. As a result, Playa Viva established a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA program to create a market for these organically grown fruits and vegetables and now farmers have a steady income stream. To combat the burning of trash and plastics, Playa Viva is creating local training and recycling centers to promote healthy alternatives for disposal, and is supporting one of the largest turtle sanctuaries in Mexico, which is located on-site.

Deep Commitment to Sustainability

“Among resort projects, Playa Viva is unique in that it’s focused on building relationships with the community, to learn from them, and use their knowledge to develop a better project,” said Laura Valdez Kurl, author of Ecohabitat: Experiences in Sustainability, and local environmentalist that specializes in community development. “It’s a slow process, but one that demonstrates a deep commitment to the sustainability of whole communities.”

For the last three years, Playa Viva has also focused on expanding market opportunities for local goods. The town of Juluchuca has several small-scale coconut candy factories using the fruit of surrounding coconut palms. Playa Viva sponsored a team of design students from a Mexico City university to redesign the product packaging and assess new market opportunities. To reduce costs, Playa Viva is helping the factory form a buying co-op for corn syrup to avoid wholesale cost markups (while also working with the factories to replace corn syrup with healthier alternatives). In another instance, Playa Viva is helping a local salt co-op with ancient Aztec roots, to repackage and rebrand its product as an upscale culinary salt.

“Imagine if every ‘green’ hotel in the U.S. was actively working to revitalize inner city neighborhoods, developing community gardens so low-income people had access to healthy food, supporting alternatives to incineration, and supporting local small businesses,” Leventhal said. “That’s what Playa Viva is doing on the beach in Mexico, that’s what makes for a truly sustainable resort and that’s what travel with ethics is all about.”

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