Founder of Palmaïa Alex Ferri talks about community service and eco-tourism
Propped amidst the Instagram-ready Caribbean coastlines, Mexico’s Riviera Maya is dreamland personified. Palmaïa-The House of Aïa unfolds a sprawling property in the location, offering one of the best hospitality a beachside retreat can promise. It is a hermit and a hedonist’s enclave. The resort is serene, made with a persnickety for perfection, and sustainability. It cares of nature, and one of the most iconic communities in the region- the Mayas.
For the uninitiated, The House of Aïa is the Caribbean retreat of dreams — both for founder and CEO Alex Ferri, as well as anybody who visits the place. It offers world-class hospitality harnessing the locals, making it a place “where ancient roots and sacred rituals interact with an international confluence…”
Just recently, the resort started ‘No Home Without Food’ initiative, a drive to fend for the thousands of people in the local community stuck hard by the Pandemic. With tourism being the principal source of income, the entire economy has practically come to a standstill. No tourists, meaning no money for the native inhabitants of the Riviera Maya region.
Alex Ferri tells WeTheWorld Magazine about myriad things, from community service during a pandemic through his upscale retreat, to the kind of wellness resort he envisions. Plus more insights on eco-tourism, sustainability, and plant-based living. Here’s the slightly edited conversation with him:
1. Starting with the wonderful ‘No Home Without Food’ initiative, what drove you to undertake this mission?
Alex: We just want to do what we feel is morally correct. The global lockdown has seriously impacted people who earn low wages because they don’t have food to eat. ‘No Home Without Food’ is our initiative to try and alleviate the problems as people in our communities are left with no livelihood and many turn to crime to survive. We are hoping that by feeding as many people as we can, we can try and avoid criminality in the neighborhoods where our people and their families live.
2. The Riviera Maya community is hit by the pandemic, like all of us. What is their usual occupation, how did the pandemic affect their livelihoods?
Alex: The entire economy here depends on tourism so most people work servicing the people who come to visit the Riviera Maya, from the corner shop selling flowers, to the lawyer’s office, hardware store in town, and the guy selling tortillas from a bike. The decline and lack of tourism has meant that more than one hundred thousand people are out of work and cannot earn a living. These people who would usually spend their money in the local economy stopped spending and the entire local economy has practically come to a standstill.
3. ‘No Home Without Food’ aims to provide fresh, nutrient-rich food for approximately 1,500 – 2,000 people per day, which is a significant number of people; so far, how’s the response?
Alex: The response has been positive! From having no food to having a warm plate of food delivered to your door can mean the world to a family who has no way of making a living at the moment.
4. How’s the complimentary vegan meal service being conducted? Is it through temporary outlets, food trucks? Tell us a little about the scenes of how volunteers, or if Palmaïa employees, or whoever is/are distributing the meal to the needy people in the community.
Alex: We are currently producing the food in Palmaïa’s kitchen. The food is then transported to Tulum and delivered to Charly’s Vegan Tacos Food Truck where it is portioned and packaged and given in batches for our people to deliver in the local communities and underprivileged areas. Charly from Charly’s Vegan Tacos is taking care of the food production and Palmaïa’s Executive Chef Eugenio Villafaña, is coordinating the delivery.
5. Now coming to Palmaia, I am simply awe-struck by everything the retreat has to offer – from the location, the accommodation, to the food, every bit of it. Recently it also won a Legend Award I suppose. Congratulations on that. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the journey with Palmaïa-The House of Aïa so far.
Alex: Palmaïa is my way of creating a more conscious and healthy way of enjoying life. Leading a healthy life does not mean you have to go to a military clinic where they serve you consommé all day long and starve you till you lose weight, or surround yourself with people in white robes and white walls, at Palmaïa you can eat whatever you want in any of the restaurants from the plant-based menus and you might lose some weight in the process… all the while contributing to a better world by not consuming animal products.
Pursuing personal growth does not have to be about being alone in a wooden hut with a bowl of rice every day, at Palmaïa we offer guests the Architects of Life program where they can partake in an array of holistic activities, or not, in a safe and sophisticated environment. Why not do a sound healing and then move into your fully air-conditioned room and lie in a warm bathtub contemplating your next move?
Basically my message to the world is that to be healthy and have a fulfilling life does not mean you have to sacrifice anything. It’s not about sacrifice, it’s about new and more interesting ways of living. My dream is that Palmaïa becomes a gathering hub for like-minded people looking for genuine truth and people who have the gift to influence and teach others in a positive way, a way that will improve the world and make it better for future generations.
6. The House of AiA is sustainable. It offers plant-based food. It has a cruelty-free luxury to offer. How does Palmaia seek to change the status-quo of cruelty-free and sustainable tourism and luxury retreats?
Alex: All hoteliers can make better decisions, and obviously it is not our responsibility alone to fix the whole world as that is untenable, but we must strive to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. If we each do our part to improve and that improvement influences someone else and then they influence someone else, we create the critical mass to tip towards a more sustainable business model. I think Palmaïa has many things going for it regarding sustainability, but like everything, there is much more we can do, which is what I hope to address in the coming years.
7. Alex, you’re a vegan and it reflects in your initiative, from the property to the recent ‘No Home Without Food’. Tell us about your take on veganism? A little about Charly’s Vegan Tacos and it’s offering. Also, the future of veganism as the pandemic has hit.
I would not call myself vegan since veganism is more of a philosophy. I would love to be 100% vegan, but it’s very difficult. Veganism is very simple, it’s a declaration of non-violence to yourself (through the food you eat), the world (through what you buy and eat and how it affects the planet) and others (people and animals).
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Being vegan means every action you take is an action of non-violence and although I do my best, I find it very hard. The other day I bought a pair of sneakers only to realize when I got home they had band on them that was made out of suede, so here I failed with veganism. The problem, I feel, is that the word vegan has been distorted to be correlated with eating food with no animal products, but as I wrote before, it is so much more than that.
Really the word “vegetarian” should be what we know as vegan – vegetarianism includes eggs and cheese, but the last time I checked, since when have cheese and eggs been a vegetable? I think if I was to classify myself I would say that I eat plant-based and I live as much of a vegan lifestyle as possible.
The important thing to understand is that it’s not about labels, it’s about doing the best you can. Someone who skips a meat dish one day may be achieving much more of a personal achievement than someone who has been eating plant-based for ten years. Every time someone decides to not consume animal products is a win for the world and humanity in my view.
I started Charly’s Vegan Tacos more than four years ago with Chef Charly because we both wanted to create a food that would bridge the gap between “normal” food and “vegan” food, something that would prove to people that eating vegan is not a sacrifice and that in fact it can be a culinary experience within itself.
So we set out with the mission to create Mexican food that tasted good and had predominant textures and flavors like meat, only made with plants. The project has been a success, although, like any businesses, it has had its challenges. I say it is a success because about 80% of people who eat at Charly’s Vegan Tacos are not even vegan or plant-based, they go for the great food. Win-Win.
8. Before ending, tell us about your future plans if you have anything to share, about more such cruelty-free initiatives?
Alex: Right now we are focusing on opening back up. But in the future we will obviously aim for new initiatives.
Palmaïa- The House of Aïa; sustainable tourism at work
The House of Aïa is everything you’d expect plus more. You get to choose to stay in one of the plus oceanfront suits, or the ones with a swim-out infinity pool. There’s impeccable vegan food for you, and vegan rooms to go with as well. Endorse to their Architects of Life program and you’ll touch the finer filaments of life because according to Palmaïa, “It is the most comprehensive personal growth program ever offered before at any resort on earth.”
Planning a trip once things become the ‘new normal?’ Here’s your outlet to explore Palmaïa, The House of Aïa.