this article analyses the role of public institutions in environmental management, and the application of the national environmental audit programme in the mexican tourism sector. the research recognizes the role of the hoteliers in the development of tourist zones, and in the alteration of the natural environment. this is an exploratory study of the general perception of management of 28 hotels in the cancún area regarding the environmental management of their businesses, the factors which limit implementation, the benefits obtained, and commitment to public policy. the results show that the effects of policy on environmental management are mildly positive. for future research, the proposal is to replicate the analysis in other tourism zones, and to quantify the effects of environmental management and performance, profitability and competitiveness of the businesses.