Differences in perspective – what do sustainability and eco-tourism really mean?

Costa Rica mapThis begins an important topic. During the conference earlier this week, several speakers agreed that the meaning of the term “sustainability” had become diluted and blurred.

I’m now at the second of three eco-tourist resorts I’ll be visiting in Costa Rica. You’ll be reading more about these over the coming week or so, but for now I’ll only give short glimpses as I’m currently staying at one – Lapa Rios, in southern Costa Rica – which doesn’t offer internet for guests but is graciously allowing me to use it. The idea here is for visitors to really experience what Costa Ricans call “pura vida”, involving taking life in, enjoying it and relaxing, at the same time. Being in the rainforest, there’s a lot to see and take in!

But I digress.

I’ve interviewed the general managers of 2 of the eco-resorts and an important distinction has begun to emerge here. We Americans often think of sustainability as a combination of recycling, green construction (using recycled or certified green materials) and a few others. But here in Costa Rica another rather surprising element is part of the mix. 

Eco-resorts in Costa Rica are empowering the community

Eco-resorts in Costa Rica are empowering the community

That element involves the community, helping it to better itself while educating and perhaps immersing them in what sustainability is.  Costa Rican resorts –  perhaps even the Costa Rican government – are embracing this important factor. It’s a concept I’ll definitely be writing more about. There’s a great deal to say as  what this entails.

For now, consider this.

What if the  hospitality industry in the US, was to take a vested interest in the well-being and education of the surrounding community, particularly those with less?  What if it did what’s necessary to empower them to better themselves, through company-provided training, reimbursement for completed classes and treating them periodically to the same amenities as the paying guests so they could get a first-hand appreciation of what tourists experience? What kind of difference could that make to employee retention and their sense of pride?

More to come on this subject, so come back soon!

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