It’s coming. Listen, look, get your twitter fingers ready, gear up your Facebook “like” button. From the 19th to 23rd September you can follow the frog as part of the first ever Rainforest Alliance Week. But how can I follow the frog we hear you ask. Well to borrow a now famous catch phrase “Its simples”! We’ll be tweeting, blogging, facebooking all week. Read the rest of this entry ?
Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category
To accompany our guest blog from the journalist Rachel Stine, Unexpected Ecuador, we are delighted to publish a series of Rachel’s photographs, taken on her Rainforest Alliance trip. We hope you enjoy then as much as we do.
During the Frog Blog’s recent trip to Nicaragua we were able to look at another aspect of the work of the Rainforest Alliance and how it is benefiting both local people and the environment. Having visited a local Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farm (see blog entry – Coffee on the slopes of a volcano) to see the benefits of certification we then went on to look at the sustainable tourism programme in action.
The city of Grenada, sitting on the north-western shore of Lake Nicaragua, is fast becoming the centre of Nicaragua’s tourism hub. This brings many exciting economic opportunities to a city, region and community who have traditionally relied on the timber, gold and silver mining industries. But as with any new economic development there is a cost as well as many potential benefits. Tourism is the world’s biggest industry and has the potential to have a huge positive impact upon sustainability. Currently much of it doesn’t. But thanks to the work of the Rainforest Alliance and others that is beginning to change.
In Grenada there are a number of hotels that have been verified under the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Tourism Programme. This offers training to tourism businesses — including hotels and lodges — that provides them with the tools and techniques they need to run efficiently and sustainably. Businesses that have completed the programme earn the right to use the Rainforest Alliance Verified™ mark on promotional materials. Read the rest of this entry ?
Every job has its perks, and being with the Rainforest Alliance those perks can be awesome. A recent visit to a Rainforest Alliance certified coffee farm in Nicaragua is a case in point.
Hacienda El Progreso is a family owned and run coffee farm sitting between 700 and 850 metres on the slopes of the volcano Mombacho. It is part of the buffer zone that surrounds the national nature reserve, which makes up a large part of both the cloud and dry forests which blanket the volcano. A beautiful place to grow coffee, with both the farm and volcano overlooking the city of Granada and the spectacular Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
With certification the farm has established a reputation for some of the finest coffee in Nicaragua and is a major tourist attraction in its own right. Unusually, the farm doesn’t just sell green beans into the market. Hacineda El Progreso grows, dries, roasts and produces the coffee, bringing it to market under the Café Las Flores brand. Unfortunately for us this coffee is mostly aimed at the domestic Nicaraguan market. But for real coffee fans the wonders of technology means that you can by it online. Read the rest of this entry ?
Welcome to the next instalment of journalist, Richard Lofthouse’s guest blog about his trip to the Amazon with the Rainforest Alliance…
One of the finest eco-Lodges in the area is Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, which opened in 1975 and has become a beacon of best-practice for the all important question: what is an eco-Lodge? I was fully expecting to have to slum it and had even brought my own mosquito net bought, I chuckled to myself, on Amazon! But no. I was greeted by a magnificent classroom/laboratory full of scientific samples and species, and following that taken to a private lodge, one of 35 rooms connected by a special path that is lit at night by aromatic citronella candles. At the centre of the complex is an enormous, mind-bending canopy walkway 30 metres above the ground, and a giant common area and restaurant serving up cold beers, superb local cuisine and wi-fi. It’s not skin deep either, although your skin can get deeply pampered if you go to the spa next to the Madre de Dios river, where the only products used are made from locally sourced jungle products such as the Brazil nut.
No, Inkaterra has gone deep. They have even worked out a formula whereby the rainforest services it provides to travellers offset the airmiles they incur to get there, a miniature model for what is being debated globally. The difference: in this case it’s already happening. By the same token, the trail system at Inkaterra, the black Caiman watching trips, the twilight and dawn canopy watching, the butterfly house and the visit to the Hacienda Concepcion, a
botanical garden with medicinal plants, are all drawn out of serious academic research projects. It was educational but never boring. It was actually not tourism at all in the Disney sense, but being granted privileged access to something precious. I realised my own ignorance bit by bit, and imperceptibly began to realise that the forest is not just gawping through binos but what actually sustains whole ways of life there, since times immemorial. Most stunning of all was the realisation that numerous species are still being discovered every year, very heartening if you’re accustomed to only hearing about their loss. Dr E.O. Wilson of Harvard University surveyed 365 ant species in 1995, a world record. Multiply this by flora and fauna, birds and mammals, and you’re left speechless.
Another highlight, perhaps the highlight, for me, was the nearby Sandoval Lake, adjacent to which is another award winning eco-lodge, Lake Sandoval Lodge. A shallow, landlocked lake, it has become an extraordinary habit for the threatened giant otter. We didn’t see any otters, but we did see black caimans lurking in the creek shallows, and dozens of other bird and mammal species including a whole troupe of red howler monkeys. At dawn, following a three kilometre walk through the jungle, the moment at which we paddled out of a narrow, dark creek onto the steaming, sun-streaked lake was one of those extraordinary moments that you fully believe you’ll take to the grave.
Other remarkable lodges we visited included Tambopata Eco-Lodge, which is linked to a research centre.
Later in the same trip we were introduced to all manner of common efforts to combine thoughtful tourism and travel initiatives with social progress and the alleviation of poverty combined with sustainability. Also, I saw slash ‘n burn fires by day and out of control forest fires by night. I never quite got used to the incongruity. Admittedly, we were in Peru at the end of an unusually intense dry season, just ahead of the rains. It would not normally be smoky. But since coming home I’ve been on websites showing satellite images of half of the Bolivian Amazon on fire, not to mention all manner of other aberrations of fires from northern Canada to Indonesia. The tensions between development and sustainability are palpable, as is the backdrop of global warming, but so are the conspicuous successes. The lodges can’t succeed without visitors, and nor can the forest, so if you are contemplating a life-time trip and want to retain a good conscience, you might consider going to an eco-lodge in the Amazon.
The Rainforest Alliance recently took freelance journalist, Richard Lofthouse to Peru to meet various partners working towards sustainability initiatives. Here on the UK Frog Blog is the first of a two-part guest blog, where Richard talks about the importance of eco-lodges in one of the most bio-diverse places on earth…
I recently returned from two trips in one. First, Rainforest Alliance took me to the Amazonian rainforest in southeast Peru, and then to the classic Inca trail and Machu Picchu, Latin America’s most popular tourist destination.
I was in the company of a dozen other tour operator chief executives from all over the world. One of them, Praful Albuquerque, had flown all the way from Melbourne Australia, which made my journey via Miami to Lima to Cusco to Puerto Maldonado look timid by comparison. All the way out, as the air miles stacked up, I was conflicted about the nature of so much fossil-fuelled travel for a supposedly eco-initiative. I thought to myself: ‘Isn’t this one more western indulgence masquerading as a helping hand to the environment?’
Gradually, the tensions abated and I began to enjoy the trip on its own terms. Bright and early on Day 2, we settled into the two hour-long flight from coastal Lima to the Amazon. Coffee-refreshed, I dived into my travel guide and read about Peru’s mega-bio-diverse status (with 1,000 of the world’s 9,700 flowers, for example), and about the fact that Lima is technically in a desert, Machu Picchu is in the Andes – it’s own climate and altitude – and then, finally, one arrives at the magnificent jungle, in which smoking is strictly prohibited and the dusty titti monkey runs wild. Looking out of the window I saw immense, almost cartoonishly enormous mountain peaks covered in sparkly white snow and tiny trails pretending to be roads, linking precarious settlements at least 50 miles removed from each other. Then, on the far side of Cusco, brown turned to green and the cabin temperature registered an increase in temperature and humidity as the aircraft came down to land. Read about it. See it. Brilliant.
We were told that it was 32 degrees hot outside with high humidity, so I stripped off my sweater and prepared to disembark, as if arriving on the moon. I was a bit nervous because I had been warned about the biting insects. This was the Amazon after all, not some pale imitation!
This being Puerto Maldonado, a frontier settlement, the airport only receives a couple of flights a day, so there were metal steps down on to the tarmac rather than a tunnel into a terminus. It’s always a big moment when you step outside and sniff the air in a new continent. The last time I had done this, it had been in Muscat, Oman on a trip to the Gulf. I’d been treated to a ferocious blast of desert air, as memorable as it was sandy.
This time, I smelt warm, damp bonfire and saw the sun through a coppery haze, even though it was mid-morning and there was no cloud. Then, the screeching call of a brace of parrots high overhead, racing colourfully to their destination. Still at the top of the steps by the aircraft fuselage, I was distracted by something on the horizon. I did a double take. Maybe I was mistaken, or it was an industrial accident, a one-off; an oddity. But no, there it was: a sky-high plume of smoke, not even that far off. Then I realised that the air smelt sweetly of bonfire, all the time, everywhere, because the forest was burning. This aroused very nostalgic memories of being on a farm as a kid in southern England, where the stubble was burned in September to return fertilizer to the earth ahead of the next sowing of seeds. Perhaps this was the same, I thought. Maybe it’s normal for this sort of thing to be going on in the pristine jungle where smoking is strictly forbidden. Mental note to self: don’t make snap judgements about agricultural practices in foreign lands.
But my other unguarded thought, more of an instinct than a thought, was that this business of saving the forest is really urgent, like you’d better believe it. Like now. Not tomorrow, not next year; not when the world can get its act together on a comprehensive carbon trading initiative, but here in the messy today, where conservation gets tangled up in poverty and the two have to be tackled together. A UN report released on October 20th claims that ecosystems such as freshwater, coral reefs and forests account for between 47 and 89 per cent of what the UN calls “the GDP of the poor,” meaning the source of livelihood for the rural and forest dwelling poor.
And that’s where the eco-lodge comes in, because at a very small relative environmental price – motorised canoes here, the odd jungle trail there, some roads and of course some airmiles – the modern eco-lodge aligns the self-interest of native forest dwellers and new settlers with the preservation of the forest.
Of course it’s ironic, or even mildly obscene, to be a westerner, here to gawp at monkeys through state of the art binoculars, the air a-whirr with camera shutters and all the paraphernalia of affluence. But we were treated to such heart-warming narratives of human self-improvement and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds that by the end I had totally fallen for Peru. Not to gawp at what’s left, only to fly away, but that we align expenditure with the great goal of preserving as much of the forest as possible, not in a hopelessly sterile, idealistically pure sort of way but grounded in the best long term and sustainable interests of the people who live there. And yes, it was a mind-blowing trip, and yes, I saw a dusty titty monkey!
In part two of Richard’s guest blog find out what he thought about staying at eco-lodges, what he was doing on a walkway 30 metres above the ground and just how many species of ants have been discovered in the Amazon.
So this week our tourism guys left sunny Costa Rica and headed to a rather colder Scotland for the Adventure Travel World Summit. Bringing with them their expertise in sustainable tourism, Rainforest Alliance’s Federico Solano and Thomas Enderlin ran Crash Courses at the Summit in Aviemore on creating a demand for sustainable tourism.
The aim of these sessions (which were full to capacity and stimulated a lot of discussion!) was to deliver quick-study programmes that equip delegates with tools and tactics that they can put into immediate practice back in the office.
The course looked at creating a demand for sustainable tourism and mainstreaming sustainable practices; an important component in creating a fully ‘green’ supply chain is of course creating viable demand.
On a business to business level, tour operators and agencies play a major role in influencing industry standards through the travel packages they design and offer to their clients, so working together building alliances within the supply chain to support sustainability is important. By doing this it allows us to help green supply chains and gives tour operators the confidence of knowing that the businesses in their ‘green’ portfolio are truly sustainable. It is also an exciting way for operators to differentiate their product in the challenging economic times we are currently facing.
Be it ornithological getaways, cultural vacations or sports adventures, greening supply chains and encouraging, enabling and supporting sustainable practices should be an essential part of the tourism industry as a whole. It’s been great to see the adventure travel industry taking such an interest this week!
The International Ecotourism Society has just held its first Innovation Leadership in Sustainable Tourism Award. The awards recognise individuals and organisations who have demonstrated leadership in innovative actions that effectively promote sustainable tourism and bring tangible benefits to communities and conservation. And guess who won the organisation category…the Rainforest Alliance!
Read our entry below and find out more about our award-winning programme and the benefits that best management practices have on both businesses and the environment:
The Rainforest Alliance provides tourism entrepreneurs and community-based businesses in Latin America with the tools and training they need to become more environmentally and socially responsible, to compete in the marketplace and to contribute to the conservation of the local cultures and nature. Last year, we launched the Rainforest Alliance Verified programme, which includes the following services:
- Training modules – from one day seminars to multi-day workshops, we provide tourism businesses with the tools and know-how they need to manage their business sustainably through best practices
- Technical assistance – businesses work together with our qualified sustainable tourism assessors to create a sustainability management plan tailored to the business’ needs
- Verification visits – an assessor makes an on-site visit to evaluate the business on its application of sustainability practices, so that management can see where they are doing well and where they need to improve
- Marketing benefits – businesses that fulfill certain requirements (see below) are eligible to receive promotional benefits from the Rainforest Alliance, including use of the Rainforest Alliance Verified mark, representation in local and international trade shows, and inclusion in promotional Web sites and printed materials
All of our tools and modules are aligned with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. Topics covered include:
- Clean technologies
- Waste management and recycling
- Carbon offsetting
- Preserving and reviving local culture and heritage
- Quality in service
- Administration and planning
- Biodiversity conservation
- Green marketing
- Gender equality as a mirror of the social commitment of the business
By working on improving their environmental, social and economic practices, tourism businesses:
- Ensure the future of their water and energy sources and natural and cultural treasures so that they can thrive for years to come
- Improve their bottom line and cut costs by learning how to save energy, use less water, and reduce staff turnover
- Give their guests a more authentic, memorable and satisfying experience, by assuring them that they can feel good about choosing their business
- Prepare for certification with one of the members of the Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas or, in the future, a Tourism Sustainability Council accredited program
- Improve their competitiveness by reaching international markets that are increasingly demanding sustainable services
- Receive marketing and promotional benefits from the Rainforest Alliance (see our brochure for more details)
What do tourism businesses gain from the implementation of best practices and what costs do they incur?
To answer this frequently asked question, the Rainforest Alliance developed a study, entitled Best Management Practices in Tourism Businesses: Their Benefits and Implications, which examined 14 hotels of various sizes, types of locations and market niches in Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua that are participating in our verification programme. The analysis found that, through the application of best practices, these tourism businesses reduced their operating costs and improved both the quality of their service and their company’s image.
Here are some of the study’s specific findings:
- Seventy-one percent of the hotels decreased their water consumption, and 31 percent reduced the amount of money they spent on water.
- The hotels saved an average of $2,781 on their water bills. One hotel in Nicaragua reported an annual saving of $7,900.
- Ninety-three percent of the properties reported a decrease in energy consumption, even though 15 percent of them expanded their installations.
- The reduction in electricity consumption resulted in lower power costs for 64 percent of the hotels, with an average annual savings of $5,255. One Nicaraguan hotel saved $17,300.
- Seventy-one percent of the businesses reduced solid waste, while the remaining 29 percent maintained stable waste levels, even though their occupancy rates increased.
- The decrease in garbage production also generated savings, with 79 percent of the businesses repurposing discarded materials, such as glass food jars that were reused as vases.
- At 83 percent of the hotels, managers supported conservation efforts in protected areas, which they believe improved their competitiveness.
- All of the hotels purchased goods and services from small and medium local enterprises, and 64 percent of them saved money in transportation costs.
All of the businesses hired local workers, and hotel administrators found that employees were more motivated after attending training sessions; 93 percent of the hotels reported a decrease in staff turnover
In the latest of our series of blogs focusing on the Rainforest Alliance’s tourism work Alfonso Muralles – owner of Four Directions tour company — talks of his love for Central America, his interest in Mayan civilization and his passion for sustainable tourism.
The actual borders of Mesoamerica were defined less than 200 years ago — recent, when you consider that ancient Mayans were already recording their history in writing some 2,000 years prior. Travel to countries that hosted this ancient and advanced civilization is fascinating, particularly when such countries are still inhabited by Mayan descendants, keeping track of the ancient calendar and speaking languages with deep Mayan roots. But the fascination doesn’t end there. It peaks when visitors discover that nature has blessed this region with mountains that reach over 4,000 meters (13,200 feet) above sea level, stunning beaches and tropical rain and cloud forests that host an incredible array of species.
Guatemala is located in the heart of Mesoamerica, bordering El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and the Caribbean on the East, Mexico on the North and West, and the Pacific Ocean on the South. Since 1996, my wife Diana and I have run Four Directions tour company out of Guatemala. With a shared background in culture, community development and the environment, we set up Four Directions to provide multi-country itineraries in Mesoamerica with an emphasis on Mayan culture, sustainable travel and natural history.
Despite the idyllic geography and astonishing cultural heritage, more than 60 percent of Guatemalans live in extreme poverty. Adding to the discouraging picture is the country’s high crime rate – largely the result of a 35 year Civil War that ended in 1996 – and the fact that the world’s media only come calling when there is hurricane or landslide. All this doesn’t do much for Guatemala’s reputation as a tourism destination — but like many “reputations” those who are better informed know that Guatemala has an incredible amount of beauty and culture to offer, and more than 1.5 million tourists are expected to arrive to in 2010 alone.
In the developing world, sustainable tourism can be an important component of poverty reduction and education efforts. Through our relationship with the Rainforest Alliance, we have learned about the importance of having a positive impact on the communities where we bring travelers. Our staff has been trained by the Rainforest Alliance in sustainable tourism best practices and the process of verification has provided us with the tools do things better. As a result, we are involving more of the communities we work with in our business and actively seeking to respect their traditions, focusing on minimizing the environmental impact of our operations, and giving preferential treatment to hotels and services that are participants in this process.
Because we understand that sustainability must be present in every aspect of the tourism industry, we are working to become a verified company that operates under the Rainforest Alliance’s best management practices. This is a commitment that we are truly invested in– we must be, if we are to be successful in preserving the diverse natural and cultural wealth of Mesoamerica.
This instalment in our tourism series is by Araceli Dominguez – owner of the eco-hotel and spa ¨El Rey del Caribe¨ in Cancun, Mexico. Araceli is an environmental activist, a businesswoman and a passionate keeper of ancestral traditions. Here, she describes her deep-seated commitment to responsible tourism and her experience working with the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable tourism programme…
Growing up in southeastern Mexico in close proximity to dense mangroves, lush forest and white sand beaches, I developed a natural connection with Mother Earth. Many years later, travelling through Central America with my husband Eduardo, I was lucky to experience new cultures, new places and new traditions while also getting a feel for the important role that tourism can play in protecting the environment.
In 1983, our love of nature and travel inspired us to build a small, pretty hotel in downtown Cancun called El Rey del Caribe. We wanted to give our guests the chance to feel at home in a foreign country and experience genuine Mexican hospitality while surrounded by our country’s beauty. Simultaneously, we wanted to offer them the chance to be responsible tourists and minimise their impact on the environment.
From the beginning, an interest in sustainability and a concern for the environment was high on our agenda; however, it wasn’t until we received support and technical assistance from the Rainforest Alliance in 2008 that our efforts were duly recognised and we were able to further invest in hotel sustainability initiatives.
Through a shared project of the Mexican Environment Ministry (Semarnat), the Rainforest Alliance and the British government, we received technical training and guidance on reducing our environmental impact, preserving biodiversity and improving conditions for workers and the local community. As a result of the educational workshops, we learned to adopt new tools that combined the three principles of sustainability: economic, environmental and social.
Although we had always worked to make our hotel environmentally friendly, implementing prescribed best management practices was something we took very seriously. Among the changes we made: transitioning to lower wattage light bulbs to save energy, registering our water meters to minimise water use, and reducing waste and contamination. During this transition period, we learned more about how sustainable tourism can save energy and help preserve areas of natural beauty, like the beaches, mangroves and wildlife that surround our hotel.
Our investment in sustainability paid off. With new solar panels we have reduced our energy bills by 30 percent and by collecting rainwater we have reduced potable water use by 40 percent. New bins on site have made it possible to segregate and recycle plastic, glass and bottles as well as compost all of the hotel’s organic waste, reducing the volume of rubbish sent to a nearby landfill. We have also planted native shrubs and trees around the hotel, increasing birdlife and creating a greener environment. My initial love and respect for nature is now shared by our hotel’s employees, who are now fully aware and conscious of their role in looking after the environment.
During our most recent evaluation by the Rainforest Alliance — based on standards of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria — we received the highest score in Mexico in recognition of our efforts to implement sustainable practices at the hotel. This was a huge achievement for us and a reward for all of our efforts to create a genuinely sustainable business that contributes to the conservation of our local environment.
El Rey del Caribe has 31 luxury rooms, all of which open out onto a courtyard with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. The hotel also offers yoga classes and massages in its onsite spa.