Hundreds of visitors from across the globe are gathering this weekend at the Hotel Ramada conference center in Cariari, west of San José, for Costa Rica’s annual business-card-swapping extravaganza.
Expotur 2009 kicked off negotiations between buyers and sellers on Thursday. And, while most of the action was in the main convention center where Costa Rica’s tourism industry experts bargain with tour organizers from other countries, a small room off the lobby of the hotel is hosting an important sideshow.
There, several dozen local companies offer stands laden with materialspromoting Costa Rica’s green products as part of Expotur’s little sister fair, Expoverde.
“Expoverde plays an important role in the event,” said Corcovado Foundation’s Francisco Delgado, who is in charge of Expoverde. “It brings important environmentally friendly solutions to the tourism industry.”
Expoverde was born in 2006 as a way to promote businesses that could help hotels and other tourism groups implement greener and more sustainable practices. The small fair has grown steadily from 12 businesses in its inaugural year to 28 this year.
Products offered at Expoverde range from organic food to large-scale sustainability initiatives such as integrated recycling plans and renewable energy systems.
Hotel managers from across the country stop in to see which practices are applicable, all in an effort to obtain the coveted Certificate of Sustainable Tourism (CST).
The certificate, issued by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), ranks hotels on a five-leaf scale, based on various sustainable practices criteria.
Armonía Natural, one of the companies at the event, helps rural tourism destinations make the most efficient use of land and resources.
In 2008, it helped Hotel Kioro in the Arenal region in north central Costa Rica, earn four leafs from the ICT by aiding the lodge in reforestation efforts and design management plans.
Margherita Bottazzi, projects director for Armonía Natural, said most rural tourism spots have a significant amount of open field. The idea, she said, is to take advantage of that land.
“You can have tourism in the field,” she said. “It’s an attractive tourism technique and it’s good for the environment.”
Bottazzi said encouraging fauna and planting various flora and medicinal plants and even building compost centers is ideal for a healthy plot of land and tourism.
Geinier Alvarado Guzmán, administration manager for La Cusinga Eco Lodge, a rural hotel on the Osa Península in the Southern Zone, has been working with Armonía Natural to improve the lodge’s recycling plan and incorporate an organic garden that uses compost from the hotel. Guzmán hopes the upgrades will bring a CST to his business, an important marketing tool, and serve as a means to conserve the environment around his hotel.
“Everybody is going toward the green movement,” he said. “Buyers want to see it. It’s not only because we want to, but because we have to if we are going to make the country more sustainable.”