About 100 guides for tourism companies from around the country were certified this week by the government.
The certification, handed out by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), is intended to enhance the professionalism of tour operators, thus boosting the value and image of tourism here, ICT officials say.
“We want our guides to not only have knowledge of the area but be able to give information about the country in different languages,” says Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides. “In addition, we want our tour operators to understand the world from a sustainable perspective in topics such as the environment, economics and social understanding.”
The three-month long training, the first of its kind in Costa Rica, was the result of cooperation between the National Training Institute (INA) and the ICT in which about 150 guides from around the country were given courses in geography, tourism culture, natural history, national history, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Though certification is not a legal requirement of tour guides, the training is part of ICT’s Sustainable Tourism Program, which seeks to categorize and certify each tourism company according to the degree to which its operations comply with sustainable criteria.
Companies that are certified regard the accomplishment as an added value to their business.
Proponents of the program note that Costa Rica cannot become a developed country through uncontrolled exploitation of its natural, social and cultural resources.
The sustainability model looks at four different components: physical and biological; infrastructure and services; external clients; and the socioeconomic environment, in which the interaction of the company and the local community is evaluated.
The level of sustainability is also measured on a scale of five different levels, similar to the hotel star rating scale in which hotels are giving stars depending on the level of comfort and amenities they offer.
The certification for the businesses lasts about two years, and at the end of that period, companies are reviewed once again by the ICT.
If at that point tour operators are not certified, ICT would attempt to work out a schedule where tour operators can attend the certification classes during an agreed period of time, generally during the low tourist season months.
Although companies are not currently required to certify their tour guides under the sustainable tourism program, they are encouraged by the ICT to do so as it helps the businesses have better equipped personnel, says Carlos Avendaño, the program’s spokesman.
Gilbert Calvo, an industry professional for the past 17 years, says the ICT training was something needed in his profession.
“The flexibility of the course schedule and the practicality of the classes such as first aid instruction have helped me out a great deal,” says Calvo who works for Swiss Travel.
“Now, we make a point to start off our presentations with safety precautions thanks to the courses we took.”
Tour operators attended the classes in May, June, October and part of November, considered low season months.
Although this certification would not bring Calvo or other guides a raise in their daily rate, Calvo says it will be a valuable factor when negotiating a raise next year.
Calvo who started earning ¢150,000 ($283) as his base monthly salary almost 20 years ago, says he currently earns about $85 to $150 per day, depending on the customers’ desires.
“A great number of tourists come to Costa Rica to learn about the various environmental issues and nature sites available here, so our certification helps us service those customers better,” Calvo says.
Noting the recent slowdown in tourism, Calvo says the economy’s ill are affecting his pocketbook.
“We have felt in the amount of tips customers give us at the ends of trips,” says Calvo. “Our colleagues in souvenir shops have felt it with the lack of sales.”
“We hope this slowdown will not last more than six months,” Calvo says. “But at the same time, this certificate would help us be on a higher level and open up our opportunities during these hard times.”
Next year, ICT plans to offer the courses again with the help of INA and certify about 100 more tour guides.
To Be a Guide In Costa Rica
To become a licensed tour guide in Costa Rica, you must be a citizen or resident and be at least 18.
You must have a high school diploma and complete the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s Professional Development for Tourism Guides course.
In addition, you must know another language and be familiar with first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.