Expedia launches World Heritage programs

Under the umbrella of the World Heritage Alliance, Expedia and the United Nations Foundation are launching two programs in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Expedia Employee Program and the World Heritage Alliance Industry Training Program on Responsible Tourism, taking place June 19-30, are the first major programs to be launched under the recently created World Heritage Alliance and will benefit the World Heritage sites, nearby communities, consumers who travel to these sites and Expedia® employees.

First, the Expedia® Employee Program will pair selected Expedia staff volunteers with a local Sian Ka’an community-based tourism enterprise, Community Tours Sian Ka’an, working to enhance sustainable tour offerings in this World Heritage site located a few hours south of Cancun. The second, the World Heritage Alliance Industry Training Program on Responsible Tourism, is the partners’ first effort to encourage hotels, tour operators, and other tourism companies in the region to promote responsible tourism to the region’s World Heritage sites. The World Heritage Alliance Industry Training Program on Responsible Tourism will run in four locations in the Yucatan Peninsula: Campeche, Merida, Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

“We applaud Expedia for setting a vision for how the tourism industry can work together with local sustainable suppliers, and the industry as a whole, to encourage travelers to visit and enjoy the world’s treasures in a responsible way,” said UN Foundation President, Timothy E. Wirth.

Millions of people travel to Mexico every year to enjoy the Yucatan region’s five World Heritage sites—Chichen Itza, Uxmal, City of Campeche, Calakmul and Sian Ka’an. Recognizing this large interest in World Heritage tourism, the World Heritage Alliance Industry Training Program will work with travel industry representatives from throughout the region to shape the way travel strengthens and sustains these sites in the future. The local site sponsors involved in this Program are Campeche and Merida Tourism Board, Hyatt Hotels in Merida, Grand Melia in Cancun, Grand Xcaret, Best Day, Hotel Tankah Paradise and Quintana Roo Tourism Board.

The goal of the Training Program is to help employees at concierge desks, activity desks, or in any customer service role to promote World Heritage and explain the benefits of responsible tourism to travelers. The Alliance has teamed up with The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Destination Ventures, Ltd., to create interactive learning seminars, online learning programs, and educational brochures for the Training Program.

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National Geographic Traveler and the Mexico Tourism Board have also joined this effort and will each design free, educational materials available to travelers throughout the region. These resources will provide information about World Heritage sites and helpful tips on how to travel responsibly when visiting these destinations. All Training Program participants will receive these materials for distribution to their customers as a way to practice the skills learned through the Program.

“We are proud of both our employees and our suppliers in the Yucatan region who have taken the initiative to work with us on this important cause,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia, Inc. “This is the first of many activities Expedia will be participating in to advance sustainable tourism in destinations in which we do business.”

The Expedia® Employee Program will help meet the complex business needs of Community Tours Sian Ka’an (CTSK), a locally, predominantly Mayan owned tourism cooperative working to ensure protection of the delicate mix of coral reefs, mangroves, clear deep water pools, and forests, which are increasingly drawing tourists southward from nearby Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The Expedia® Employee Program will include a two-week knowledge-sharing effort between five selected Expedia employees and participating members of CTSK. The teams will work together on product development, relationship management and Web site design, helping CTSK enrich tourists’ experiences and strengthen their community while still preserving the World Heritage site.

More than 60 Expedia, Inc. employees submitted applications for this first-ever employee volunteer program, which the company created and funded as part of its commitment to advancing community-based tourism development in and around World Heritage sites. The five who were selected are Megan Kiester, group program manager; Olger Palma, finance manager; Janice Lichenwaldt, category manager; Dustin Warr, director of strategic accounts; and Josh Williams, senior UI designer.

“It’s encouraging to see a corporation take a responsible stance as Expedia has in supporting sustainability, and I’m excited that I have been chosen to participate,” said Josh Williams, an employee of Hotwire®, a subsidiary of Expedia, Inc., who will work with CTSK on improving its web site design as a way to draw in new customers and streamline booking procedures.
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