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How The Ritz-Carlton Creates Unexpected Adventures Creating Eco-Adventures That Are Magical and Unexpected

Interview with Dr. Richard Murphy 05.17.2016

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society developed an adventure program that offers Ritz-Carlton guests an immersive experience in some of the world’s great ecosystems.

From Maui’s coral reefs to mangroves in the Cayman Islands, Ritz-Carlton resorts offer guests access to stunning landscapes and ecosystems, which are among the most beautiful on the planet. But observing and experiencing are two different things. Ritz-Carlton guests can enjoy on their own eco-adventures — led by trained naturalists — in the Ambassadors of the Environment program. This partnership program between The Ritz-Carlton and Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society encourages participants to explore and value their world, says Richard Murphy, Ph.D. The society’s director of science and education joined Jacques and Jean-Michel Cousteau in 1968 to create environmental and cultural programs across the globe. Here, Dr. Murphy discusses how today’s travelers can learn from nature to create a more sustainable tomorrow. 


How does Ambassadors of the Environment differ from other eco-travel programs?

The Ambassadors of the Environment program is unique because it reflects the entire history of the Cousteau legacy. It all began with Jacques Cousteau beginning to explore the ocean because of the aqua lung. What we bring is a perspective that has a global focus, but is tailored to the local ecological system and designed by our Cousteau team of scientists. From an educational point of view, the program based in science, without feeling like one is in school. We want participants to think about what they learned, and how that can relate that to their lives back home to create a sustainable future.


Why did Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society collaborate with The Ritz-Carlton to develop the program?

We thought it was an interesting opportunity to interact with global travelers and their children — the next generation of leaders. As we developed a program initially with The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, we found as the kids would explain to their parents what they experienced, the parents began asking why their children were having more fun than they were on holiday and could they join. We realized it shouldn’t be just a program for young people, and we should make sure all our activities are relevant for adults. Now the program evolved to include activities for all guests, and it can even accommodate corporate and large groups that come to the hotel as well.


How does the work of Jean-Michel Cousteau and his father, Jacques Cousteau, influence the program?

It was our personal experiences on Cousteau expeditions that inspired the philosophy and format of the Ambassadors programs. There is a reason the most attractive tourist destinations are in beautiful natural settings: We need rejuvenation.

Thus, going into a rainforest, coral reef or any natural ecosystem is rejuvenating, gives us a sense of peace and wellbeing, and is good for our mental and physical health. We know that from personal experience on Cousteau expeditions. Those expeditions and the films we produced gave us is a reminder of the value of nature and how beneficial it can be for us all no matter where we live.

The program’s goal is to recreate those kinds of experiences for guests at The Ritz-Carlton hotels. We want to reach the heart and the head. 

Lush rainforests in Puerto Rico. Mangroves in St. Thomas. Vast, colorful coral reefs off the coast of Maui. How do you develop activities that allow guests to explore such diverse areas?

I go to each region, spend a few weeks there experiencing and exploring every ecosystem in the region — whether it’s terrestrial, marine or coastal. I dive and hike, often with a local guide who knows of the local ecology, to learn what is there and how our program’s four principles can be applied: Everything is connected, there is no waste in nature, everything runs on energy and biodiversity is good. I also ask myself a few questions -

 "What would be the most interesting and exciting excursions into those ecosystems? What examples of sustainability might there be as we explore those ecosystems?  What are the lessons we can take back home to the human ecosystem?" 

Return to the Amazon

Was there any time you were surprised by something or you knew immediately this was a special kind of experience guests should take part in?

At Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, there is a magical rainforest right at the edge of the resort that’s really beautiful. Taking people into that little forest at night is almost scary, but then you hear these amazing chirping frogs. Being immersed in this mysterious, magical environment while being serenaded by these little frogs is something I never would have expected. There are wonders everywhere, it takes the eye of an ecologist to notice those things and bring them to the awareness of our guests. That’s why all Naturalists we hire have a four-year degree in environmental science; they can understand what’s really going on so the wonder of nature can be shared with the guest. 


For guests planning to participate in the program, what can they expect in terms of activities and the time commitment?

The program is a compilation of activities, with about a dozen 3-hour options. Those activities are rooted in nature, marine or terrestrial, sustainable living, and culture. Plus, weather can be a factor, so all outdoor programs have an indoor component, like underwater photography where we can come back and look at images


How does the Ambassadors program not only minimize its impact when exploring environmentally sensitive destinations, but also help preserve and protect them?

We are a conservation-focused organization, and our Naturalists are well educated and know the consequences of harming the natural environment. We strive to keep our environmental footprint as close to zero as possible.  We also have programs to monitor and restore the local ecosystems.


Ambassadors of the Environment is educational and enjoyable. How were you able to imbue so much fun into the program?

It’s all about the childlike sense of wonder that exists deep inside all of us.  Its fun to explore and discover weird and mysterious things.  The Ambassadors program is built on being out of doors and asking questions –what is that, what does it do, why is it so colorful, what does it eat, who eats it, will it sting or bite and why is it important to the ecosystem.  With guidance from our naturalists guests discover  the biggest “wows” in these destinations.  They dive in and have fun exploring. 

"We’re seeking those magical moments of discovery that are truly unexpected and transformative."


Explore Ambassadors of the Environment Programs at These Resorts

  • Grand Cayman

    Location Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

    Experience The natural beauty and soft sands of Seven Mile Beach.

    • Turquoise waters blend with a cerulean sky
    • Decadent seafood at Blue by Eric Ripert
    • Greg Norman-designed Ritz-Carlton Golf Club
  • St. Thomas

    Location St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands


    • Luxury accommodations with sea-view terraces
    • Redesigned infinity pool and family pool with slide
    • Aquatic center with snorkeling, catamarans and paddle boarding

  • Kapalua

    Location Maui, Hawaii

    Experience A resort rich in cultural traditions and a warm Aloha spirit.

    • Unique ocean activities for everyone
    • Distinctive beach and poolside cabana offerings
    • Newly reimagined guest rooms and suites
  • Dorado Beach

    Location Dorado, Puerto Rico


    • Family-friendly West Beach with dining at Encanto Beach Club and Grill
    • The quiet East Beach near Positivo Sand Bar and COA
    • Land- and water-based activities with Ambassadors of the Environment