Green credentials are in hot demand in most sectors and especially in travel. Sustainable tourism has a big part to play in achieving inclusive economic growth, protecting worker rights and celebrating diverse cultures, encouraging rural development, lowering carbon emissions and preserving fragile ecosystems in the world’s least-developed but most scenic travel destinations.
The role of sustainable tourism in contributing to a healthier world is laid out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Costa Rica embeds into its national tourism strategy. The Costa Rica Tourism Board has developed its own recognition system for hotel and holiday companies looking to showcase sustainability credentials. The certificate for sustainable tourism is available for companies that show appropriate administration of natural and cultural resources, improve the quality of life for neighbouring communities and contribute to sustainable national growth.
Investing in these types of green credentials is imperative to build trust with the world’s growing army of ecotourists, especially without any agreed international standards governing ESG factors in business operations. The results of four ESG sentiment polls conducted by market intelligence company GlobalData between October 2022 and January 2023 showed declining faith in ESG strategies, with only 19% of the 1,330 respondents believing companies are fully committed and 33% considering it a marketing exercise.
GlobalData predicts ESG will be the critical theme impacting businesses over the next decade. This includes tackling climate change, improving governance and making companies more socially sustainable. However, travel and tourism businesses that oversell their credentials will be caught out, either by sceptical travellers or by tightening regulation.
Growing the local and tourist economy in the Nicoya Peninsula
Jorge Jimenez, CEO of the Cóbano Preserve and Marina Tambor development, emphasises that “sustainability is not an afterthought, it is the backbone of the project”. This mixed real estate ecological development aims to transform the Nicoya Peninsula, one of Costa Rica’s richest areas in biodiversity and wildlife, into a home for a multibillion dollar eco-development that will include a marina, hotels, residential apartments and a coastal town.
The Nicoya Peninsula was the area that put Costa Rica on the map as a top travel destination in the 1990s. The Barceló family opened a resort overlooking the pristine waters of the Ballena Bay – informally known as the Bay of Tambor – on the Pacific Coast following success in the Dominican Republic. International visitors, mainly from the US and Europe, started coming and never really left. This year, the tiny Latin American country now famous for its lush vegetation, volcanoes, soft-sand beaches and sea turtles, expects about three million tourists looking for thrilling adventures, wellness retreats or simply family fun in the sun.
Jimenez describes the opportunity for tourism investors as “so green it’s gold”. The landmark eco-development in the peninsula aims to reboot the local economy, grow skilled employment and support the region’s fishermen, and aims to build robust infrastructure around the Bay of Tambor to raise the quality of life for the people that live and work there.
“This area is where you will find the real Costa Rica,” says Jimenez. “Many tourists, including celebrities, come to our small country for our beautiful natural resources, our intense biodiversity, to see humpback whales, monkeys, porcupines, and parrots in their natural habitats. They want holidays that are environmentally friendly. Well, once the Marina Tambor project is built, our visitors will be able to have a unique luxury travel experience close to the most protected natural ecosystems in Costa Rica – the national parks of Cabo Blanco and Curú – while knowing that their trips are helping to grow the economy of the region and raise living standards for the local communities.
“This area is one of the world’s five Blue Zones where many locals live to more than 100-year-old. There is already a lot of interest in how Nicoyans keep so healthy and live so long. People want to know what is their secret? Well, now investors have an opportunity to bring more travellers here to find out.”
Fusing luxury with sustainability
The first phase of the Marina Tambor development, which will eventually transform about 360 hectares of land around the Bay of Tambor into a tourism hotspot, will involve the construction of a marina designed to house 300 slips, office areas, a harbour master’s office, yacht club amenities, boat shops, specialty restaurants and hull work areas and other facilities. Apart from the marina, there are five other parts to the project, Jimenez explains, and these include boutique hotels built into the landscape, private residences, an underground road that does not disturb the local wildlife and even a local town inspired by Santa Teresa and Montezuma.
Sustainable design and construction, low-flush toilets and showers, renewable energy and waste management will all feature in this carefully thought-out project in a country that already punches well above its weight when it comes to government action to achieve net-zero emissions goals and preserve its unique biodiversity. More than 99% of Costa Rica’s energy is already produced from renewable sources like hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, solar and wind, and the country was one of five to win the inaugural Earthshot Prize in 2021 for doubling the size of its natural forests through various initiatives. Since then, making a historic move, Costa Rica has said it will expand its protected ocean area from 2.7% to 30% of its territorial waters – nine years ahead of a global deadline to protect a third of the world’s land and sea.
Another key focus of the Marina Tambor project is establishing efficient garbage collection to overcome the risk of littering that is often associated with tourist areas. Educational facilities for local communities will also be built to upskill workers and prevent the need for the peninsula’s families to have to move for work.
“We want to fix the bridges and roads, maximise electricity capability and create opportunities for people who live there,” Jimenez says. Fishing is a big industry for this area of the Nicoya Peninsula.
“By providing better infrastructure and fishing equipment, the fisherman can improve their quality of life, and in return, they can provide fresh fish for new residents and tourists.” In addition, the focus on growing water-based activities and entertainment like sailing, diving and fishing offers opportunities for local workers to start their own businesses in offering water sports, sightseeing boating trips and other experiences.
After all, who better than a local to show you around?
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