Costa Rica: Sustainability pros and cons

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The key to Costa Rica's success as a sustainable tourism mecca — a slow and measured approach to development — is not always welcomed by developers. But sustainability is now becoming mainstream, says Andrew Cohan of Horwath HTL, who will moderate a panel at the SAHIC Costa Rica Sustainable Hotel & Tourism conference to be held at the San José InterContinental hotel next week.

Andrew Cohan, Horwath HTL.

Andrew Cohan, Horwath HTL.

Costa Rica has a great reputation for peace, an educated population and a government that is committed to sustainability and slow growth, in contrast to neighbouring Panama, which is growing quickly, Cohan told CLN. “It can be tedious to get the processes and licenses in place. Everybody would like to be there, but might choose to go to the Caribbean instead, since they don't have five years to prepare to build.

“Is this an obstacle to growth?  Or a benefit of not letting Costa Rica become a Cancun or Miami Beach?”

Cohan will explore this and other topics with his panel on Nov. 14. The panel includes Mauricio Ventura, Minister of Tourism for Costa Rica; Carlos J. Hernandez Garcia, CEO of Pellas Development; Karim Alibi, founder and principal of Gencom Real Estate Services Corp; and Louis Alicea, senior director, development, Latin America and Caribbean for Wyndham Hotel Group.

Panel participants, clockwise from top left: Mauricio Ventura, Karim Alibi, Carlos J. Hernandez Garcia and Louis Alicea.

Panel participants, clockwise from top left: Mauricio Ventura, Karim Alibi, Carlos J. Hernandez Garcia and Louis Alicea.

Cohan says that sustainability is starting to become mainstream, just as diversity did in the 1990s. In the '90s, everyone knew they needed more women and more diversity in their board rooms, but they had excuses. “We just can't find the right people,” they said. Ten years later that excuse just didn't cut it. 

“It was no longer okay to say you couldn't find them,” Cohan said.

At some point, sustainability has to grow beyond lip service — measures such as appointing a VP to talk about how much electricity an organization has saved, for example. Companies are now being pointed at and poked regarding how they have instilled sustainability into all of their processes, Cohan noted.

When they look at hotels, developers are starting to look at whether their operations can be sustainably managed, and at their relationships with the community.

But we're not quite there yet. “I haven't heard of a project that was economically feasible being turned down because of sustainability,” Cohan said.

For information go to:


Costa Rica's first Sustainable Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference

PROFILE: Statia Elliot — Sustainable tourism in Vietnam