San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hotel Company Leads Pack in Going Green

A hotel company committed to going green has had its reputation cemented in Costa Rica’s scorched earth after garnering some of the nation’s highest accolades for sustainability in the hospitality industry.

Green Hotels of Costa Rica Management Company has seen two of the hotels in its portfolio gain the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) “Five Green Leaves” recognition – the top number awarded – and now the owners have set their sights on spreading the green message across the isthmus.

The group, which includes Sí Como No Resort and Spa in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast, and Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Resort in the coffee town of San Ramón, northwest of San José, plans a whopping half-million-dollar reforestation drive over the next two to three years as part of a raft of ecological initiatives.

The two locations are surrounded by natural inspiration for such lofty ambitions. Sí Como No is set amid ManuelAntonioNational Park, one of Costa Rica’s most popular protected areas. Villa Blanca, meanwhile, is surrounded by the Los Angeles Private Biological Reserve and can boast views of what some have described as “simply breathtaking” cloud forest.

Coupled with new ownership programs, which allow shared title over real estate at Sí Como No, for example, the group says it can now rightfully claim to be ahead of the pack in the green stakes.

According to the company, run by Jim Damalas, principal owner and general manager, they have now been earmarked by the United Nations World Heritage Alliance to be a model property in sustainable practices.

The recent successes earned by its green policies have capped 15 years of dedication to sustainable practices, said Brian Corrigan, sales director of the group’s Green Residence Club, the face of the ownership programs.

“Both properties have been awarded Five Green Leaves, the highest level of certification for sustainable hospitality and practices in Costa Rica,” he said. “It is the first time a hotel group has achieved this award for multiple properties and only the third and fourth time in over a decade that any hotel has made this level in sustainable hospitality thanks in part to the commitment of more than 200 hotel staff and management personnel.”

One level of the ownership program, Corrigan continued, is set to be the pilot property for a new carbon offset certification initiative with environmental group the Rainforest Alliance.

“The (Green Fractional Ownership) program will identify our carbon footprint and certify our reforestation programs with the participation of both our guests and owners, with the goal of maintaining carbon neutrality with President Oscar Arias as the first nation and hotel group to do it in the world,” Corrigan said. “Our programs are not limited to reforestation, but as hotel guests and owners, one may also participate in carbon offset programs, animal protection and community development initiatives that we have supported and been partnered with since opening Sí Como No.”

Corrigan said the ownership programs – which essentially will turn Sí Como No into real estate over two years, with Villa Blanca set to follow with half of its estate – represent the first time the Rainforest Alliance has recognized a real estate project.

“We are absolutely ahead of the curve on this,” he said.“They (Rainforest Alliance) have never endorsed a real estate program before.

“Each person will buy a fraction and will be enrolled in the Rainforest Alliance and other organizations, and we will give matching donations to them.

“We will plant 500,000 trees in two to three years. When people make a reservation, trees will be planted. When they buy a drink, trees will be planted.”

Achieving sustainability appears to filter from the top down. The group says both Sí Como No and Villa Blanca follow strict guidelines, including in the usage and treatment of water. Kitchen waste, plastic, glass and aluminum must also be recycled, involving local communities wherever possible. At the other end of the chain, green committees made up of volunteer staff members evaluate progress and set goals for further improvement.

“It all starts with the people,” Corrigan said. “We have one of the lowest (employment) turnover rates in the country. They are key to this.”

Corrigan claimed the company’s commitment has been unwavering since its inception in 1993, and has called for other hotels to take greater responsibility for spreading the conservation message.

“As Costa Rica experiences considerable tourist growth and visitation, it is now more than ever important that we inform and educate people of the importance of their surroundings and preserving them,” he said.

Tourism development is rampant in certain parts of the country, leading to calls from some quarters that Costa Rica’s tourism growth is unsustainable. Some critics argue the surge is out of control and places in jeopardy the country’s target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2021.

But Corrigan believes the Costa Rican story doesn’t have to be that way.

“Through our current operations, new partnerships and innovative ownership program, we endeavor to expand that commitment throughout Costa Rica and eventually Central America,” he said.

Owner Damalas has a simple philosophy: a commitment to conservation while living in barefoot luxury. It’s good for business without harming the environment, he said.


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