To re-train the thinking of the majority is a long-term plan that takes the right kind of leadership and a willingness of the people to not just want better for themselves but want a better standard of living for the future generations. We applaud those countries, both advanced and developing, who have systematically built a mind-set of eco-consciousness to the point where it has become a lifestyle, not just at the tourist level but at the basic household level. For the most part, through economic incentives and penalties that affect all, these countries have molded and nurtured the group think in a positive way. We shine a light on Costa Rica today and discuss with hospitality manager of the beautiful Casa Blue Villa, Alejandra Sobrio, long-term sustainability and eco-tourism.
Alejandra, born and raised in the capital San José, moved to Tamarindo, the central west coast of Costa Rica, after spending three and a half years in France. Her career in hospitality kick started in her early twenties when she founded one of the first on-line travel agencies in the country. This, at a time when the internet was still a novelty for most. For five years, she honed a strong service oriented mentality catering to tourists' needs and expectations. Subsequently, the business was sold and she went on to work in various capacities in the Tamarindo area where her background in Biology was needed. Of note, Tamarindo is one of the country's main tourist hubs, rich in bio-diversity and conscious tourism, attracting a wide variety of visitors globally. It only makes sense that Alejandra was drawn to it. She now works with a construction company building high end sustainable homes, where in addition to construction management she manages one of the properties as a vacation rental. And that is how we met Alejandra, and experienced first hand her incredible hospitality at the gorgeous Casa Blue Villa in Tamarindo.
In your mind, what makes the hospitality service industry in Costa Rica unique?
Because of our history and long democratic tradition, the Costa Rican people live their lives in peace and tranquility (CR abolished their military in 1948), and this is particularly true in the rural areas. This translates into a population that is perceived by visitors as friendly, humble and very attached to their roots and their connection with nature.
Protecting the environment is a large part of the DNA of the Costa Rican people and this need motivates political and economical decisions. Can you expand on what this means from an eco-tourism standpoint? Do you even call it eco-tourism at this point if everyone in CR is adhering to the same practices?
One of the reasons eco-tourism has been succesful is due to the fact that it creates revenues. I truly believe that our inclination to protect nature has been reinforced thanks to the income that it has allowed many families to create. In other words, protecting nature has to remain a sustainable activity and we need to keep finding ways to make the protection of nature profitable. I have met many large property owners whose initial reason for allowing forest to regrow in their lands was financial (either for tourism or to obtain carbon incentives from the government), but they gradually discovered the other advantages that come with the forest, whether it’s social recognition for accomplishing a good task or simply witnessing the return of certain species that had long been vanished and slowly start to venture themselves back in their lands.
A great example of how introducing government incentives around environmentally safe practices can lead to long term sustainable benefits for a country.
5. What are the varying degrees of eco-tourism to be found in Costa Rica?
Eco-tourism is experienced at all levels, and I have witnessed it both from my work in hospitality and as a biologist working in rural areas. Big hotels and larger companies understand that Costa Rica is branded internationally as an eco-friendly destination and therefore, they dedicate a lot of ressources to enhance the natural attractions. But the most important impact is on low to medium income families that have decided to make a difference and attract tourists by going organic on their farms, creating compost from coffee or other residues, protecting the trees where the zip lines tours are going to be taking place or turning their houses into lodges for birdwatches and nature lovers that like to venture into remote areas. Eco-tourism has impacted all levels of the Costa Rican society but has had a more dramatic impact on isolated areas where income is low and access to education and jobs is scarce.
Editor's Note: Interestingly, we've started to see an increase in the B&B and small villa rental listings in less common and accessible areas of my country Jamaica, as locals seek out additional income sources through casual and business tourism. With the advent of websites such as Airbnb that aid in marketing small multi-use properties effectively, we are sure to see continued growth and access to more remote areas of the island. It is the government's prerogative to ensure that systems are set up to support these microcosms of the tourist industry. As they collect tax revenue generated from these small enterprises the government should use the funds to educate the locals on best practices in tourism and environmental protection in these areas. A win-win for all.
5. How does the focus on the environment impact architectural and interior design choices of hotels/villa properties, etc. and how do those design choices influence the vacationer’s ultimate experience?
Our company is recognized for applying tropical architecture design into each detail. The late Steve Adams, who designed Casa Blue, and Jeff Hutton, the contractor, teamed up over 20 years ago to build houses that respect their enviroment and understand the intricasies of each season in the tropical dry forest, where we build all of our homes. Casa Blue is the perfect example of how a house can offer luxury while adapting to its surroundings: there is cross ventilation in every room, eaves to prevent the sun to enter the house at the warmest time of the day, screens to enjoy the breeze while keeping the mosquitos away, plants that require little irrigation during the dry season and hammocks on all decks for people to nap at all times.
6. We believe in order for a hospitality environment to be truly successful, at least these three things: design, service and superior product must be top-knotch…what is your take on this?
We certainly hope to offer all three things to our guests in Casa Blue. I do believe design is key, as the look of the house is the first thing that will be judged by a traveler and that first glance at the premises will put them at ease and help them relax. The second thing is definitively service: friendly staff will make you feel at home and forget any inconveniences related to the long distance flights, hassles at the airport and high temperatures that may shock travelers on the arrival day. And last but not least: superior product. You may achieve this through financial investment or you may just take advantage of what Mother Nature has granted us: at Casa Blue, our greatest asset is the sun setting over the Tamarindo Bay and Las Baulas National Park, very few things can beat that!
Thanks so much to Alejandra for her inspired words. I think there is so much knowledge and applicable actions that developing countries heavily invested in tourism could adopt from countries like Costa Rica, to support the long-term future of their country's natural habitat as well as create economic growth and opportunity for all. If you agree or not, we would love to hear your comments below.
To read more on Costa Rica, stay tuned for our next travel log, which will focus on the beautiful Casa Blue Villa we stayed at last year.