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Importance of Certification for Sustainable TourismImportance of Certification for Sustainable Tourism

The Importance of Certification for Sustainable Tourism

In the past ten years, the concept of “ecotourism”, going “green” and building “sustainably” in the tourism industry has exploded; especially in places such as Costa Rica, where a number of rich natural sites are still in place, these terms are common place, appearing in practically every hotel, restaurant, tour operator’s office and street corner. While there are a number of definitions for these terms, they all basically boil down to one thing: finding ways in which to satisfy the requirements of today’s society without making it impossible for future generations to satisfy their own.

Finding truly “sustainable” tourism operations, however, has proven to be extremely difficult for consumers with the advent of “green washing”: the practice of using terms such as “ecotourism” or “green” simply as a marketing ploy to attract a more socially and environmentally conscious customers—and not necessarily as an operational plan or commitment. How, then, are customers supposed to know the difference between a hotel that is truly sustainable, making substantial contributions to the environment and surrounding community, and one that is simply says that it is “green” for the sake of attracting customers?

Luckily, enviornmentally and socially conscious customers who visit Costa Rica have a great tool for assuring that their money is spent in a way that will truly make a positive contribution: the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST) administered by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT). This complete, and rigorous, certification system, which is the only certification endorsed by the Costa Rican government, awards hotels “leaves” on a scale of one to five based on their sustainability achievements (much like the Mobile star rating which evaluate hotel services). The CST bases its judgements on four factors:

  1. Biological-physical: How does a property impact and/or protect its surrounding environment?
  2. Services and Infrastructure: How does the property’s operations (including product use and disposal, water and energy management, etc.) affect the environment?
  3. Social-Economic environment: What impact does the property have on nearby communities to promote/provide education to its staff and community and to work with community service providers.
  4. External client: How does the property promote and teach responsible tourism with guests who visit?

Currently, the CST is not mandatory for all properties in Costa Rica. For this reason, it is imperative that the consumer take an active role in looking for properties that are indeed participating in the certification process. By supporting organizations that are CST certified, you not only know where your money is being spent, but are showing your support for fair, honest and, above all, truly sustainable business practices. When you travel in Costa Rica, inquire about CST certification, ask questions and demand answers. Your travel decisions, and your “colones”, can truly make a difference.

Visit www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr for more information.

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