Ecotourism Certification: Costa Rica’s Sustainable Tourism Certificate Explained

The Ecotourism Certification Standards series continue with Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism. In North America, the term ecotourism has become synonymous with the country of Costa Rica. Its lush natural environment coupled with an incredible diversity of wildlife makes it a favorite destination for vacation adventure, enrichment and relaxation. The Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program was developed by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) and is regulated by the Costa Rican National Accreditation Commission. It was designed to differentiate tourism companies based on the “degree to which they comply with a sustainable model of natural, cultural, and social resource management.”

The voluntary program is open to all hotels, lodges, cabins, travel agencies and tour operators regardless of their size. The CST “level” refers to a scale of 5 levels, which are signified by green leaves. The number of green leaves refers to the level of sustainable tourism achievement by, for our purposes, the ecotour operator company based on established conditions for the following four areas of evaluation:

  • physical-biological parameters,
  • service management,
  • external client, and
  • socio-economic environment.

Award process:

An ecotour operator company can enroll in the program for free and in turn receives a specific questionnaire, which consists of 108 questions divided into 28 categories and addresses each of the four areas listed above, in order to determine how thoroughly the company complies with a series of standards.

Each question “refers to an element of sustainability with which the firm should comply in order to qualify in any one of the different stages or levels of fulfilment.” In addition to the questionnaire, the ecotour operator company undergoes a general evaluation and a general perception survey. The general perception survey refers to “situations that have not been evaluated by the questionnaire.”

After the completion of the questionnaire, the evaluation, and the perception survey, the company receives a score of 1 to 3 for positive aspects and -1 to -3 for the negative aspects of the sustainable business operation. The “level” outcome will “always be the lowest level achieved in any of the areas. It is expected that this policy (encourages) companies to advance towards the model of sustainability by giving the same degree of consideration and importance to each of the four areas evaluated.”

Once the tourism company has been awarded a CST “level”, there is no formal process for reauthorization.

Click here for a listing of ecotour operator companies that have been awarded the CST.

Check out our eco-certified Costa Rica Highlights trip.

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