According to National Geographic´s Center for Sustainable Destinations, “geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism—that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations—while allowing for ways to protect a place's character. Geotourism also takes a principle from its ecotourism cousin,—that tourism revenue should promote conservation—and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place.”
In an effort to promote those organizations that have worked to incorporate the principles of geotourism into their operation, National Geographic and Ashonka´s Changemakers have introduced the Geotourism Challenge 2009: Power of Place-Sustaining the Future of Destinations.
Read Lapa Rios´ 2009 application below:1. What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.
Lapa Rios seeks to prove that: “no matter how you cut it, a rainforest left standing is always worth more.”2. Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.
Lapa Rios Ecolodge, set in a private nature reserve spread over 1,000 acres of lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, is a model ecotourism project that strives to show both its guests, its employees and the surrounding community that “a forest left standing is worth more than one cut down”.
For guests that stay at Lapa Rios, a number of activities focused on the rainforest and the nearby ocean are offered. Guests are exposed to a truly enriching experience as they learn not only about the rainforest and conservation, but also about local Costa Rican culture and customs through typical dances, tours to local organic farms, and much more.
Additionally, Lapa Rios focuses extensively on education, conservation and community development with its employees and the surrounding area, hiring only local Costa Ricans for all positions (including management), and offering a number of programs to enhance employee education and development. Lapa Rios built and continues to work with a nearby primary school (Carbonera School) and works rigorously to improve environmental education on the Osa Peninsula. Lapa Rios also works to support scientific research in the rainforests of the Osa Peninsula to enhance knowledge of existing biodiversity.3. Explain in detail why your approach is innovat tainable development is a viable, and desirable, option for future development projects worldwide.ive.
Winning top awards from Conde Naste Traveler (Conde Nast Gold List 2008 and Readers Choice Award 2007), Travel and Leisure Magazine (World´s Best 2007) and Andrew Harper´s Hideaway of the Year, Lapa Rios Ecolodge is an an ideal destination for travelers from around the world, combining pristine, natural settings with luxurious accomodations and top quality food and beverage options.
However, Lapa Rios Ecolodge is more than just a beautiful rainforest hotel or eco resort next to the beach. With almost 60 employees, Lapa Rios is a model ecotourism project that strives to show both its guests, its employees and the surrounding community that conservation and sustainable development truly are a feasible, and more importantly, desireable option for development.
Receiving five leaves from Costa Rica´s renown Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST), Lapa Rios works rigorously, and systematically, to include sustainability and conservation in its daily business practices, showing both the surrounding community, the tourism industry and the business community in general, that luxury, sustainability, conservation and community development truly can go hand-in-hand.
1. What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.
The owners of Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Karen and John Lewis, a professional musician and a lawyer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, arrived to Costa Rica for the first time in 1990 on a bird-watching expedition. Profoundly influenced by a previous two year Peace Corps mission in Kenya, Africa (where they learned about the importance of community development and social responsibility), the Lewis’s decided to embark on a conservation project that would allow travelers to enjoy nature, as well as have a good meal and a hot shower. They purchased 1,000 acres of primary rainforest and made a commitment to hire and train local residents, as well as contribute to the development of the surrounding community and to create as little environmental impact as possible. To finance this purchase, as well as subsequent lodge construction, the Lewis’s sold all their U.S. assets, including retirement funds, and procured loans from friends and family. They set out to prove to guest, community members and the international tourism industry that “no matter how you cut it, a rainforest left standing is always worth more.”2. Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.
The owners of Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Karen and John Lewis, a professional musician and a lawyer, respectively, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA arrived in Costa Rica for the first time in 1990 and, since then, have become pioneers and experts in the field of ecotourism and sustainable development. While they currently live away from the lodge itself, they have continued working diligently to promote the concept of ecotourism and sustainable development worldwide in organizations such as the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), as well as various colleges and universities.3. Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.
Unique tourist experiences include:
Partnerships that would allow Lapa Rios Ecolodge to enhance its impact on community issues (with government and nonprofit organizations that tackle issues such as waste management, education and environmental awareness, for example) would be very helpful in enhancing the lodge’s innovation. Additionally, the assistance of more academic institutions to carry out studies examining Lapa Rios’s true environmental and social impact, as well suggestions for how to solve these issues, would be beneficial as well.
1. Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?
While there is always room for improvement, we believe that we have been fairly successful in proving that sustainability, conservation and community development can be a model for tourism and development. As a baseline to measure our quantitative and qualitative impact, we having been using Costa Rica’s Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST), a renowned certification scheme that awards tourism operators leaves for their efforts in conservation, sustainable development and community development. The CST is a rigorous approach to sustainable tourism, causing one to implement and systematize sustainable business practices at all level of the operation, from monitoring and reducing energy usage to showcasing and highlighting local culture and customs.
Since winning and maintaining our five leaf standing (the highest standing awarded to tourism operators by the CST), Lapa Rios has also began to seek other means of monitoring its environmental and socio-economic impact, including looking into carbon neutral certification to examine our carbon footprint, benchmarking with other companies that have implemented sustainability into their operations, and more. These certification schemes not only work as benchmarks for our own sustainability programs but also act as a means of communicating our sustainable efforts in a verifiable and quantitative way to our customers.2. In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?
Local residents have, from the construction and design phase taken an active and participative role in the lodge´s operations. The entire staff of Lapa Rios Ecolodge is made up of local residents and is managed by a Costa Rican-based management company working to promote Costa Rican leadership skills. Additionally, Lapa Rios focuses on a philosophy of buying locally whenever possible, thereby improving the surrounding community as well. In fact, a recent study carried out by Stanford University confirms that over the years, the lodge has brought substantial and tangible benefits, both economic and environmental, to the surrounding community.3. How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?
A number of tours (nature tours to guests given by local guides who give local interpretations of flora and fauna, sustainability tours that explore the lodge´s sustainability program, tours of local community-run organic farms and conservation programs) are offered to guests. Lapa Rios also hosts educational chats and talks given on the lodge´s premesis, a typical dance group and local artisans. Additionally, Lapa Rios links guests with traveler´s philanthropy projects, allowing guests to contribute in meaningful ways to local education projects or conservation efforts around the Osa Peninsula.4. Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.
Lapa Rios works extensively to promote the interaction between guest, nature and the community. Through this exposure (by means of locally guided tours of the rainforest, exhibitions of local art and dance, and tours of local schools and farms) employees, members of the community and guests realize how special both the cultural and natural heritage of the Osa Peninsula truly is. Additionally, through our website, sustainability tour and promotional material given before, during and after the guest´s stay, Lapa Rios encourages guests to make their travel decisions wisely, choosing tourism operators that follow a similar model for sustainable development.
1. How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.
Lapa Rios Ecolodge is privately funded. The hotel itself is made up of 16 bungalow and 60 full-time employees, generating over $2.2 million in sales with an 80+% annual occupancy rate.
2. Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? Is there a potential demand for your innovation?
We believe that the fact that Lapa Rios is both financially and organizationally stable is just another testament to its success. The fact that Lapa Rios can achieve such a high level of sustainability while also maintaining excellent services and accommodations, further demonstrates its success as a model ecotourism and sustainable development project. Over the years, we have seen more and more demand for the services and experiences offered by Lapa Rios. And we believe that as the concept of sustainable tourism continues to spread among travelers, the more successful our project will continue to be.
3. What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having a greater impact.
One of the main challenges that we face here in Costa Rica is the fact that the country is still in a developing stage and that many programs (such as basic solid waste programs or enforcement of environmental regulations) are still not organized or properly in place. While we as a hotel may be separating and recycling our trash, for example, some of the employees who live in the nearby community do not even have a proper landfill or trash recollection service to dispose their solid waste. As we try to teach our employees and community about the importance of recycling, and they do not have the means of disposing of solid waste properly in their own communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to complete the educational cycle. While Lapa Rios has embarked on several projects to work with government officials, we at the hotel often feel as though we could use some more government assistance. Additionally, many of the products and technologies that we have, or would like to implement, at the hotel are very costly (either due to a costly import tax or the high cost of the products themselves), making the usage of these products financially impossible.
4. What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.
Future plans include: