Ethical Mezcal Tourism in Oaxaca, Mexico: Towards an Understanding
The second decade of this century has borne witness to the birth of a new and directed form of Mexican travel; mezcal tourism. Spirits aficionados, entrepreneurs, photographers and documentary film makers, and students of the diversity of rich Mexican cultures, have been converging on primarily the southern state of Oaxaca. Dufftown Moray They come to buy, to learn and understand, to expose to the rest of the world, and in some cases to financially benefit from the back-breaking work of agave (maguey) growers, artisanal distillers (palenqueros), and their respective families. Of the nine states in Mexico which in 2018 have been legally able to call the agave spirit “mezcal,” Oaxaca is by far the poorest using any reasonable criteria. And so here in the state where Mexico’s native son, Benito Juaréz was born and raised, we have an obligation to ensure that mezcal tourism is ethical, responsible, sustainable, and respectful of both the environment and the lives of the people who eke out a modest living cultivating and harvesting agave, and distilling mezcal. But how do we accomplish such lofty goals while at the same time ensuring that those who bolster the Oaxacan economy are rewarded in their travel experiences?
Whether we move towards understanding mezcal pilgrimages to Oaxaca in terms of ethical, responsible, sustainable or environmentally friendly, or any combination of the foregoing tourism classifications, we need a starting point. Most of the more succinct definitions are subsumed in the World Travel Market’s adoption of the 2002 Cape Town Declaration of responsible tourism:
(1) minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts;
(2) generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
(3) involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes;
(4) makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
(5) provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
(6) provides access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged;
(7) is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
The key players in mezcal tourism are growers, distillers, communities, government, industry regulators, brand owners and representatives, and visitors to Oaxaca. Also included are the guides, drivers and others who purport to be able to effectively provide appropriate services to those arriving in Oaxaca for any one or more goals.