The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Tourism. Among other tasks, it administers the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) programme, a voluntary points-based system created in 1998 to recognize enterprises’ efforts towards environmentally friendly practices and business models. ICT evaluates each participating business according to criteria concerning the relationship of the company not only with the natural environment, but also with its clients and its surrounding community. On the basis of the evaluation, the company is assigned a “sustainability level” rating. ICT conducts regular reassessments of the rating, with the aim of helping the business improve its performance. As the rating improves, the CST programme provides for greater national and international publicity, among other benefits.
The programme is an innovative way to provide information to consumers about the degree to which certain businesses are complying with or exceeding environmental standards. As a result, the consumers are able to choose tourism options in the light of greater knowledge about the environmental consequences of their choice. Businesses are encouraged to improve their environmental performance. Higher-performing businesses are rewarded with higher rankings and, in turn, with greater attractiveness to those looking for sustainable choices in their travel in and to Costa Rica. The benefits are felt by surrounding communities in economic as well as environmental terms. Indeed, according to a recent study of ecotourism published by UNEP, the economic benefits from offering a range of “green services” around ecotourism may even include a reduction of poverty rates in the areas with eco-friendly tourism projects.
The ICT’s website: http://www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr/; UNEP’s study is at: www.unep.org/resourceefficiency/Portals/24147/scp/business/tourism/greeneconomy_tourism.pdf; see Report of Independent Expert on Mission to Costa Rica for an overview of the CST programme: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/SREnvironment/Pages/Countryvisits.aspx.