Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Tourism Guide Shows Growth of Certified Businesses in Latin America

January 3, 2008

From the popularity of eco-lodges and "green" vacation tips in magazines to the rise of carbon offset programs among airlines, an increasing number of companies are taking steps to encourage sustainable travel choices. But how can responsible tourists separate the green-doers from the greenwashers? By choosing businesses that show they are meeting environmental and social standards by earning a seal of approval from an independent sustainable tourism certification program.

Latin America experienced a 25 percent growth in the number of certified tourism businesses in 2007, up to 167 in October from 136 in 2006, according to the second edition of the Rainforest Alliance's SmartGuide to Sustainable Travel in the Americas (The information in the SmartGuide was current as of October 2007 and might have changed at the time of this announcement).

As of October 2007, Costa Rica was the certification leader with 68 businesses certified by Certification for Sustainable Tourism, up from 51 in 2006. Guatemala followed with 39 businesses certified by Green Deal, up from 20 in 2006. Green Globe 21 certified 36 businesses in seven Caribbean countries, 12 in Mexico and one each in Bolivia and Chile. There were 10 businesses in Ecuador certified by Smart Voyager. In addition, the United States had 38 businesses certified by Green Seal.

Beach "Now that travelers, tour operators and agencies have become savvier about what it means to be green, it's no longer enough for businesses simply to make claims about their responsible practices," said Ronald Sanabria, director of the Rainforest Alliance's sustainable tourism program. "Independent third-party certification ensures that businesses are meeting a set of environmental and social standards and can also help businesses identify areas where they can improve."

All the businesses listed in the catalog have committed to conserving resources and contributing to the development of their communities and are certified by one of five certification programs in the Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas, an alliance of 94 groups that are working together to promote sustainable travel and share information and ideas.

This rise in the number of certified businesses has been driven by increasing consumer interest in sustainability and preference for hotels and lodges that demonstrate responsible practices. According to a 2003 study sponsored by National Geographic Traveler, 54 million American travelers say they generally choose travel companies that make efforts to protect the environment of the destination. Also, some tour operators, travel agencies and travel Web sites are starting to give preference to certified businesses.

Boat on Lake "Working with the Rainforest Alliance has helped us reach out beyond our certification borders in Costa Rica and get exposure to an international audience," said Jim Damalas, owner of Green Hotels of Costa Rica, whose two hotels have earned the highest certification rating (five leaves) from the country's tourism certification program. "We have discovered a world of industry colleagues out there who encourage us to share our knowledge and experiences along with a growing number of hotel guests who acknowledge and value our efforts."

The Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit conservation organization, works with tourism businesses in Latin America that want to use more sustainable practices -- conserve energy and water, recycle, support local residents, protect natural resources -- and also works with certification programs on developing baseline standards that can be shared across countries. The organization has been secretariat of the Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas since its inception in 2003.

The publication of the catalog was supported by the Global Environment Facility, through the United Nations Environment Programme, and the Inter-American Development Bank's Multilateral Investment Fund.