About the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism
For many years, Lapa Rios has been a great supporter of the ICT's Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program in Costa Rica. The program evaluates a property's sustainability level by awarding one to five leaves as awards. When the hotel was evaluated first in 2001 Lapa Rios received a four out of five leaf ranking. Back then, no hotel qualified for the maximum five leaf award. In August 2003, the hotel was reevaluated and in October 2003, as the first hotel in Costa Rica, was upgraded to the five leaf level.
We are proud to continuously show our committement to conservation and sustainability and invite you to learn more abou the CST at here.
|All of our tours have naturalists guides from the area to teach guests about our flora and fauna|
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:
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.
1. When and why did you choose to obtain the environmental certification (CST)?
a. When: Lapa Rios began the CST in 1999, gathering information, proofs, and implementing minor changes. Owners John and Karen Lewis initiated this half-year process with the assistance of the first ecolodge manager, Gustavo Segura. The Lapa Rios employees also played a role. In November 2000 the CST evaluators granted Lapa Rios a CST Classification: 4 Leaves (out of 5). More...
2. What are the main benefits of getting the certification for Lapa Ríos and for its tourists (the difference between having it or not)?
Certification is not just an effort to raise ethical principles. Multiple benefits derive from certification. Though many view certification as too costly both in time and expense, management and owners can demonstrate certification eventually ends up saving time, helps to manage risks and adds real value. More...
3. What kind of tourists visit Lapa Ríos (market share)?
In 1990 Karen and John Lewis purchased more than 1,000 acres of primary- and reemerging-growth rain forest on the SE tip of the Osa Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, and this private purchase added to the land conservancy buffering Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. The Lewis’s conjectured their unique conservation intention-to sustain the pristine land together with the local community-would attract visitors. More...
4. What can Lapa Ríos offer to tourists as a certified hotel?
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following principles:
More...5. What are the problems you encountered in order to obtain the certification? How did you overcome these problems?
The CST designed a paradigm of environmental and social standards. Each participant designs their own level of response, and the CST evaluators measure the progress, assess quality and standards. Following an evaluation the CST’s involvement and responsibility ends. Participants who seek to improve must drive their own capacity building-skills training, ‘how-to’ seminars, where to find quality products, develop and contract community services, etc. More...
6. Do you have any recommendations for other tourist operations that want to get certified?
Certifying Sustainable requires a willingness to be honest to past and present actions, and an acceptance that improvement is possible. Certification requires a top-down commitment from owners, to share and agree on a vision with management, staff and even non-associated local people. Reasons must be understood in order to gather willingness and cooperation to this self-reflection and change. Dedication to improve and excel gains momentum as more people understand and realize the benefits of better practices and greater individual capacity. Becoming certified, being sustainable, equates to honoring the earth by enabling people. This business ethos is far more reaching than simply examining the financial bottom line. However, as greater consumer demand forces businesses to certify, those who acted wanting to make a difference, before that request, will lead. These businesses will gain from that leadership. More...
For years, like many other Central American countries, Costa Rica’s primary exports were agriculturally based. But even then, Costa Rica had something special. With a government built on traditions of democracy and peaceful development, the tiny country had the special opportunity to use its resources to preserve, rather than exploit, the riches it was endowed with. As more and more travelers are looking for natural areas to visit, one might say that Costa Rica is reaping the fruits of that far-sightedness. Over a million people now visit the country annually, and part of what they’re coming to experience is the very way that Costa Rica defines ecotourism. They’re coming to see the 850 species of birds, they’re coming to see the 200 mammal species, they’re coming to see the reptiles, the trees, the plants, the volcanoes—in short, they’re coming to see the living laboratory of nature that still exists in Costa Rica. They’re coming to enjoy what we have, to help us protect it, and to learn from it.
The task of development within a country blessed with such riches, without destroying them in the process, demands a great deal of imagination and hard work, and the government of Costa Rica has taken up the reins of the project admirably. They’ve set up programs that play a large part in making sure that what visitors come to Costa Rica for today, will still be there for the visitors of tomorrow. The first, and perhaps most far reaching, of these programs developed by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), along with other governmental and educational groups, is the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST). The CST program categorizes and certifies tourism companies according to the level that their operations approach a model of sustainability—in terms of their degree of impact on the natural, cultural and social resources of the country. The certification committee focuses on four operational components: the physical-biological; the infrastructure and services; the external clients; and the socio-economic environment. These categories cover a range of issues as specific as the type of products and consumer goods purchased and used by a company, to those more broad based, such as a company’s efforts to educate their clients toward conservation and respect for local culture. In summary, the ICT would define sustainable tourism “as the balanced interaction of three basic factors within the tourism industry: 1- Proper stewardship of our natural and cultural resources; 2 – Improvement of the quality of life of the local communities; and 3- Economic success, that can contribute to other programs of national development.”
Although Costa Rica and many of its wilderness-oriented tourism businesses are famous for pioneering the concept of ecotourism, the CST addresses a broader concept—sustainable tourism—which addresses both wilderness and urban tourism activities and encourages practices that spread benefits more widely into the local communities and ensures long-lasting success. CST isn’t an ecotourism seal. It is a set of performance-based standards that create guidelines that any country would want their development to follow, whether based on an ecotourism model or not. The certification addresses a series of basic principals of sustainability that are in need of adoption the world over. In fact, the CST guidelines have been approved by the ministries of tourism of every country in Central America, as well as Mexico and Belize, and several countries in South America have expressed interest in developing similar programs.
It has been said before that CST is a program “worthy of exportation.” The truth is that Costa Rica has been exporting the concept of ecotourism and sustainable development for some time now. The numbers of people that visit the country annually attest to the country’s leadership position in this timely market, illustrating that Costa Rica doesn’t just export bananas anymore!
CST’s objective is to turn the concept of sustainability into a concrete goal for Costa Rica’s tourism industry. The first phase includes only the lodging industry, but future programs will include tour operators and other related industry companies as well. The national parameters will be improved biannually, allowing the program to develop alongside appropriate new technologies.
In the first phase of the CST program, only lodging companies are being certified (other tourism service providers are soon to follow). Hotels, inns, bed & breakfasts and cabins can all voluntarily participate in the program. The hotels are categorized by Province location, size and type, i.e. city hotel, beach hotel, country inn…
After filling out an application and questionnaire, the National Accreditation Commission evaluates the establishment in a site visit, ultimately assigning a “sustainability level” on a scale of 0-5, in a system similar to the well-known star system used by commercial hotels internationally. Level “one” would indicated a first step in the process toward sustainable practice, and with each percentage of improvement the level can increase, peaking at level “five”, indicating that the company is considered a “model of sustainable tourism”.
Costa Rica has become a world leader in addressing the issues of sustainable tourism development. It is a concept whose time has come, not just within the borders of this small country, but internationally as well.