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What Does Sustainability and 'Eco-Travel' in Costa Rica Even Mean?

Where: Costa Rica
July 31, 2014 at 12:57 PM | by | ()

Earlier this week, our bro HotelChatter took a look at what it means for hotels to be eco-friendly and sustainable in Costa Rica. Instead of stars, a property is awarded anywhere from 0 to 5 leafs that represent its cooperation with the requirements set forth by the country’s Board of Tourism in its Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST).

The certificate was designed with the purpose of differentiating businesses and their level of responsibility as it relates to sustainable tourism. Hotels are definitely the most talked about entity when it comes to sustainability rankings, partly because they are the most consumptuous and partly because it is a trend that has caught on with the rest of the world. LEED Certifications, for example.

But environmental responsibility is not just limited to Costa Rica’s hotel scene. The standards are actually encouraged for every business within the tourism industry, including tour operators, guides, and restaurants. Let’s take a look at the main ways tourism is appraised by the CST:

Physical-biological parameters: This category evaluates the interaction between the physical company and its surrounding habitat. Is the business integrated into the natural environment? Is the building environmentally friendly? Was it produced by new construction or salvage? Does it conserve energy?

Service Management: This looks at how a touristic product takes into consideration its effect on the natural world. To use an obvious example, a city bike tour is much more sustainable than a city bus tour, as are sailing excursions when compared to jet-ski rentals. It then goes beyond the final product to evaluate how the its creation, development, and execution respect sustainability. This can include the materials and methods used to create said product, or the way a tour operator guides its clients through the natural world.

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, clients have to be on board as well. The Certification for Sustainable Tourism requires businesses, including tour operators, to actively persuade, encourage, and provide opportunities for their guests to participate in and contribute to sustainability. Do tour operators offer environmentally friendly excursions, such as eco-tours of plantations, bird-watching, or guided hikes? Or do they sell ATV tours?

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 tourism businesses 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.

Those four categories run deep and certainly give business owners a lot to think about, which is why obtaining a 5-leaf rank is so challenging. One important thing to keep in mind is that despite all the talk surrounding sustainability in Costa Rica, participating in the CST is actually optional, not mandatory. For us, it's what makes the country's commitment so impressive.

[Photo: CST]

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