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Costa Rica Legitimizes Sustainability Branding in Travel Industry

A pioneer in sustainable tourism, Costa Rica has become a model for other countries by developing ways to promote and enforce sustainable tourism through planning, marketing, hiring locals, and certification.

Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST)

A key component of Costa Rica’s success is the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST). A product of the Costa Rica Tourism Board and supported by CANAECO, the CST was designed to differentiate businesses of the tourism sector. Certification is based on compliance with a sustainable model of natural, cultural, and social resource management.

The CST rating is regulated by the Costa Rican National Accreditation Commission on a scale of five levels (or five leaves) of sustainable achievement. The certification can be earned only by adhering to specific guidelines such as avoiding emissions, implementing conservation, recycling products, employing the local community, promoting cultural traditions, and protecting the environment and wildlife.

Since the program was developed in 1998, more than 220 Costa Rican hotels and 70 tour operators have earned the CST certification. Among them is Finca Rosa Blanca, a boutique hotel and coffee plantation located just outside San José. The hotel’s owner, Glenn Jampol, has been a pioneer in sustainable tourism. In addition to having a low environmental impact, his hotel has created jobs for the community, improved the local economy, and funded a library and classrooms to improve education.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, buzzwords like "eco" and "green" have been abused by companies seeking to appeal to environmentally minded travelers. In an effort to eliminate this false advertising, the CST has begun analyzing management practices and the environmental and social impact of hospitality services.

Taking it Global

On a global level, the objective is to transfer the CST verification system to other countries. International brand awareness of CST would ultimately reduce costs, increase occupancy, improve image, and offer substantial environmental guarantees. Travelers could feel confident that certified businesses are committed to behaviors that avoid negative impact on the culture and environment. Likewise, for the verified business, CST could be used as a promotional tool to attract future travelers.

Costa Rica’s Leaders in Sustainability

Guayabo Lodge. A mountain hotel near Turrialba Volcano. www.guayabolodge.co.cr

Casa Turire. A plantation home on the banks of Angostura Lake in the Turrialba Valley. www.hotelcasaturire.com

Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn. A coffee plantation and luxurious inn that crowns the central valley mountain highlands of Costa Rica. www.fincarosablanca.com

Arenas Del Mar. A luxury beach hotel in Quepos Manuel Antonio with five leaves in sustainability. www.arenasdelmar.com

CATIE. A Cartago-based center for tropical agricultural research and higher education. www.catie.ac.cr

EARTH. An agricultural university with a focus on investigating sustainable agriculture in tropical environments. www.earth.ac.cr

Updated: 2014-08-15

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