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La Fortuna: A Model of Sustainable Tourism

Published: March 2011
Accessible from San Jose, the rural town of La Fortuna is a gateway to the Arenal Volcano, one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes. Roughly 6 miles (10 km) from the edge of La Fortuna and regularly spewing smoke and ash, Arenal is the country’s top-rated tourist attraction.
The Rainforest Alliance has been working with several hotels in the area, providing technical assistance and guidance to help these businesses improve their environmental, social and economic practices.
Hotel Las Colinas is one of the many hotels in the area working with the Rainforest Alliance. Until recently, the 22-year-old hotel was situated within an old building with dated infrastructure. In an effort to minimize energy costs and better cater to its relatively young clientele, the hotel was revamped in 2008. Changes included building an open garden terrace -- to maximize light throughout the hotel -- and installing energy efficient light bulbs and solar panels.
¨We have reduced our energy bills by 80 percent, ¨ explains hotel manager Ivette López Fernández. “We are determined to make an impact, be a sustainable hotel and provide the best possible experience for our guests,” she adds. “Apart from the economic benefits of being a sustainable enterprise, the other main benefit is the environmental awareness we have instilled in our workers, guests and the community.¨
Down the road, at Hotel Arenal Rabfer, signs have been placed in each room to teach guests about the ways that they can help the hotel operate more sustainably -- for example, by minimizing their water and electricity use, and reusing towels and bed linens.
To further reduce energy costs, the hotel has made use of an open space to dry linens, towels and clothing. Under translucent paneling, the drying system makes the most of the heat from the sun -- more efficient and more environmentally friendly than the hotel's large tumble dryer.
While it has launched many excellent initiatives to become more environmentally friendly – including the installation of a water-cooling air conditioning system and a sewage treatment system -- Hotel La Fortuna´s use of natural light is one of its most impressive. With the middle section of its roof made of glass, light from the fifth floor reaches the downstairs lobby, so that no light bulbs need to be used in the reception, restaurant and corridors in daylight hours. By maximizing its use of light, the hotel has minimized its energy bills.
Nearby, Hotel La Fortuna has also taken smart steps to increase its use of natural light, and implemented a water cooling system along with a sewage treatment system. The hotel has also taken special care to ensure that its facilities are accessible to all -- thirty percent of its rooms cater to people with physical disabilities. According to hotel owner Jose Soro, caring for his guests is as important as caring for the environment.
Cesar Rojas – manager of Hotel Arenal Volcano Inn – says that changing the habits of his 30 full time employees was almost as challenging as implementing sustainable management practices. After training, however, turning off lights and recycling has become second nature to hotel personnel. The hotel also pays a group of local women to collect recycling once a week, and gives organic material to a local farm to feed pigs. In the rooms, guests can read about the importance of recycling and dispose of waste in two bins -- one for general trash and the other for recyclable materials.
Two months ago, the hotel installed solar panels to provide energy for six of its rooms. It’s already begun to reap the benefits -- monthly energy bills are lower and guests are pleased when they learn that the hotel is using solar power. Eventually, the Hotel Arenal Volcano Inn hopes to have all 25 rooms running on solar power.
Located just outside La Fortuna, Villas Eco Arenal was once a cattle ranch. Now, thanks to a reforestation program that has restored many of the areas native trees and plants, the eco-hotel is a hot spot for birds, sloths and an assortment of frogs. It has also discontinued the use of agrochemicals -- instead using fertilizer produced from organic material -- and begun segregating waste. As a result of these and other changes, the river is cleaner, soils are healthier and biodiversity is thriving.
For Villas Eco Arenal, increasing environmental awareness and keeping precise records proved to be a challenge. After a series of workshops, however, all ten staff members began recycling and turning off lights regularly, and hotel manager Henry Ulate began keeping detailed records of income, expenses, energy use and water quality. ¨Before joining this program, we never kept records efficiently, “he explains. “Now, we see it as an essential part of our business and one we benefit from greatly.¨
Since its inception, the 80-year-old, family-owned Hotel Campo Verde has been operating with an eye toward the future. Among the hotel’s sustainability strategies: buying food locally, laundering less frequently, planting native trees and cleaning with biodegradable liquids.
Recently, the hotel also began segregating plastic, glass and organic material to ensure a healthier environment for people and wildlife. Since ramping up its sustainability investments, the hotel has seen an increase in the number of toucans on its property.
The Arenal Volcano is not the only popular tourist attraction in the region. La Catarata de la Fortuna, a waterfall that cascades from 229 feet (70 meters) and is surrounded by several hot springs, is also a huge draw for travelers. Together, both wonders bring tourists to a region increasingly focused on providing sustainable options for its visitors, and on conserving its incredible natural wealth.

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