A beach at Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Par
Crédito: Mauricio Ramos
Costa Rica Exports Its Model for Green Tourism Certification
Por José Eduardo Mora
Several Latin American countries will emulate the Costa Rican "green seal" for the tourism industry. Although the major hotel chains have shown little interest so far, Costa Rica has certified 50 businesses in the tourism industry.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).-
Costa Rica's Sustainable Tourism Certification program (known as CST) puts this Central American nation at the forefront of ecological tourism, and its policies are beginning to attract followers throughout Latin America.
Costa Rica is "the first country in the region to develop such a program," making it a pioneer, Alberto Salas, coordinator of CST for the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism, told Tierramérica.
The project was highlighted during the World Tourism Organization conference held last year in Bahia, Brazil.
After that meeting, an initiative was launched to create a network in the Americas for sustainable tourism, using CST as a model. Participating in the network so far are Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Brazil, said Salas.
By governmental mandate, the Central American countries are already working on setting up the certification process, but it has yet to be consolidated.
Certification is voluntary in Costa Rica, and so far 50 hotels have signed up, 80 percent of which are small operations.
The idea of certifying profitable tourism businesses that are environmentally friendly and respect social rights emerged in 1993 as an initiative of the Institute of Tourism, the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE) and the University of Costa Rica.
Certification takes into account sustainable development based on four aspects, INCAE spokeswoman Andrea Prado told Tierramérica.
These are the physical-biological environment, the utilization of the service establishment, the external client and the socio-economic environment.
The first entails the interaction of the business with the surrounding natural environment, and includes wastewater treatment and the protection of flora and fauna.
Waste management, as well as the awareness that the business creates among its suppliers in terms of care for the environment and the relationship with the community are determining factors for obtaining certification.
"Hotels see direct benefits like significant savings in energy and water, improved waste management and better relations with the community," Salas said.
Once an applicant business has complied with the requirements of the four areas it can set its sights on achieving five-star quality, in the same style as stars are used in the international hotel industry.
In Costa Rica there are only two five-star environmentally certified hotels, the Rosa Blanca Country Inn, in Heredia, 25 km west of San José, and Lapa Ríos, in the western town of Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast, 100 km from the capital.
There are three hotels that have achieved four stars, 12 with three stars, 18 with two stars and 13 with one star.
"The fact that only two hotels have reached level five says a great deal about the demands of the program, and the efforts that the hotels must make to improve their score," Salas said.
The lack of financial resources and the novelty of the concept itself were stumbling blocks that the program had to overcome initially.
The major hotel chains operating in Costa Rica have so far shown little interest in certification.
"The big hotels attract segments of the market that are not yet interested in sustainability, in contrast to what is happening in lodging specialized in ecotourism," said the CST coordinator.
Prado, of INCAE, acknowledged that the certification project has not advanced as rapidly as its promoters had hoped.
The established requirements in some cases are very difficult for smaller hotels to meet, because they demand investment and a great deal of effort, she said.
But the economic benefits will gradually convince the business owners to seek certification. "Those who are attracted to sustainable tourism in general generate more revenues than those who are attracted to 'sun and beach' tourism," said Prado.
European tourists are the most likely to look for sustainable alternatives, as are some U.S. and Canadian travelers, said Salas.
Sandra Jiménez, of the Costa Rican office for Rainforest Alliance, underscored the importance of ecological tourism, in which the visitor, the tourism business and the community all benefit from the fact that the environment is not harmed.
* José Eduardo Mora is a Tierramérica contributor.