The next time you throw a cigarette butt out your car window or leave a Styrofoam cup on the sidewalk, beware. The greenest man in the world lives in South Florida and he could be anywhere. Htesh Mehta, a leading authority, practitioner, and researcher on ecotourism, physical planning, and both the landscape architectural and architectural aspects of ecolodges, comes to Books & Books in Coral Gables Wednesday to promote his latest work of ecotourism, Authentic Ecolodges. The book looks at some of the most forward-thinking ecolodges in the world's most exotic destinations.
A Hall of Fame cricket player and Ft. Lauderdale resident, Mehta was named one of five Sustainable Tourism Pioneers in the world by National Geographic Adventure and one of the 25 Most Powerful People in Adventure by Men's Journal. But New Times wanted to see what was so green about this guy in person. Read on for our Q&A with Hitesh.
New Times: Can you explain the terms ecotourism and ecolodges and for our readers who may be unfamiliar with their meanings?
Hitesh Mehta: Ecotourism, in my opinion, is any tourism in nature-based locations which practices the three main principles of protection of nature, benefits to local (population), and offering of interpretative programs. As such, one cannot have ecotourism in downtown Miami. Without doubt, the best potential for authentic ecotourism experiences are the Native American reservations adjoining the Everglades National Park.Ecolodges are Tourist accommodations that can only be found in ecotourism destinations. By definition, they are "low-impact, nature-based accommodations of two to seventy-five rooms that protect the surrounding environment; benefit the local community; offer tourists an interpretative and interactive participatory experience; provide a spiritual communion with nature and culture; and are designed, constructed; and operated in an environmentally and socially sensitive manner."
How did you become interested in these fields?
I grew up in a family that practiced the ancient Indian philosophy of Jainism and from day one, the principles of 'ahimsa' - non-violence were instilled into my everyday life. In my family, we have been vegetarians for over forty generations!! I am currently now a vegan. This early childhood has influenced the way I design, think, and live - a low impact approach. Ecotourism is low-impact, practices non-violence principles, and, as a sector of the tourism industry, has played a role in alleviating poverty in several rural parts of the world. It is the one sector of the tourism industry that has the greatest respect for both faunal and floral species as well as the welfare of the local people. Simply put, ecotourism is the 'Jainism' of the leisure industry.
Tell us about your new book, Authentic Ecolodges.
A few months after the launch of my first book, International Ecolodge Guidelines, in May of 2002, I saw the need to complement it with a pictorial book that showcased most of the authentic ecolodges on the planet and in so doing celebrate the amazing work of local craftsman in indigenous communities, architects, landscape architects, engineers, owners, operators, etc. After a journey that took me to 46 countries, spanning all six continents, and at a cost of $700,000 (time and expenses), I am delighted to present to you the first "chai-table" book in the 32-year history of ecotourism, which is now the fastest growing segment in the tourism industry. I say "chai" because almost twice the number of people drink tea than coffee in the world!
What small things can people do to leave less of a carbon footprint?
I would like to answer your question by sharing with readers what I do to have a small ecological footprint on the planet: Being a committed environmentalist, I am one of those people who not only walks the talk but I run the talk. Everything I do in my personal life has the same mission as my work - which is to tread lightly on fragile earth. I own the first hybrid car in Florida; all furniture and most of the equipment in my house are reused and recycled; all my cleaning liquids and detergents are biodegradable; I have a efficient recycling and composting program at home and none of my toiletries have been tested on animals. All my office stationery and even my book is recycled and FSC certified paper! When I am traveling, I try to travel light and choose whenever possible environmentally friendly tour operators and transportation. My list goes on but I will stop here.
Do you still play cricket?
I have been designated "Hall of Fame" status which means that I am officially retired!! I am now a keen follower of the game but have not played competitive cricket in over 13 years! When in Kenya, I played 20-years of non-stop cricket and my role as captain has greatly helped me over the years as a Design Team Leader. Leading consultant teams from all around the world comes easily to me and cricket captaincy has helped me to successfully manage a group of diverse people with varied backgrounds.
What do you think about our city?
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Miami has over the years been like a second-home to me. My maternal uncle first moved there in the late sixties and then my brother followed in 1973. My sister joined him in 1982 and my dad in 1993. So, as you can see, I have had family connections in Miami for over 40 years. The city has a very interesting multicultural vibe about it and I love Latino-Haitian energy that pervades throughout the metropolis. My favorite waterholes are Lincoln Blvd, Fairchild [Tropical] Gardens, Delano Lobby, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, North-Beach Bandstand, Art District, American Airlines Arena, and of course Little Havana. On the other hand, my favorite nightmare is without doubt the Miami Airport! I could write a book just on my horrific experiences there.
Join Mehta the Explorer at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables ) on Wednesday, November 10 at 8 p.m., for a book presentation and signing. Visit booksandbooks.com.