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What Does It Mean for a Hotel to be 'Eco-Friendly' in Costa Rica?

Where: Costa Rica
July 29, 2014 at 5:30 PM | by | ()

When travel writers begin to talk about what the model for eco-friendly toursim should look like, every conversation starts with Costa Rica. The country turned to tourism in the late 80s to spark its economy, but it did something different than other destinations: It put forth an envious effort to make responsibility within the industry just as important as profitability. LEED certifications are trendy for hotels in North America, but sustainability is a way of life in Costa Rica.

The Certification of Sustainable Tourism is not mandatory or required of any business in the country, yet when you talk to any owner or operator, it seems so second nature that you can only assume it as law. Maybe that's because its message is so common sense that, when presented with the information and evidence, going about it any other way would seem like suicide.

"Unfortunately, in the last decade, tourism has focused its attention on the economic aspects regardless of the negative impact that the activity causes to the environment and the cultural background of the communities directly affected by the industry," the Certification's official site explains. "The tourism industry is particularly based on demand; therefore these changes are influencing the supply... For these reasons, we can say with certainty that 'the tourism of the XXI century either is sustainable tourism or will not be at all.'"

The Certification of Sustainable Tourism (CST) is a product of the country's Board of Tourism, a government-funded branch. The certificate was designed with the purpose of differentiating businesses within the tourism sector based on the extent to which they comply with the Board of Tourism's model of sustainable tourism. This includes, for example, how a hotel manages its natural, cultural, and social resources.

Participation in the program is entirely voluntary and open to all accommodations and travel operator agencies, with no limitations on size. The CST program analyzes a business and its practices and determines its ranking based on a 0 to 5 scale - using leafs instead of stars - that measures its level of sustainability. The evaluation for hotels is conducted by answers to questions drawn from the following schools of thought:

Physical-biological parameters: This category evaluates the interaction between the company and its surrounding habitat. Is the hotel integrated into the natural environment, or were thirty acres bulldozed to build it?

Infrastructure and services: Each hotel is judged by its management policies and the operational systems within the company and its infrastructure. This includes energy saving strategies, water pollution reduction, and waste handling policies and technology, among others.

External Client Participation: You can supply a recycle bin, but if everyone throws their water bottles in the trash, nothing is accomplished. For sustainability to truly occur, a hotel's guests have to be on board as well. To prevent properties from simply going through the motions, the Certification for Sustainable Tourism requires that hotels actively persuade, encourage, and provide opportunities for their guests to participate in and contribute to sustainability.

Socio-economic environment: The economic impact of tourism doesn't do locals any good if they don't get a large percentage of the pie. Because of this, the Certificate requires that hotels exist as part of, not in spite of, the surrounding community. This means hiring and buying local as well as giving back both educationally and financially.

Interesting, right? Tomorrow, we'll show you how this all translates off the page in reality into the day-to-day offerings and operations of a hotel. To illustrate, we'll use examples we found at properties of different levels of eco-status during our time in Costa Rica. Stay tuned.

[Photos: CST]

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