Forbes Interview on Luxury Eco Lodges and Sustainable Tourism

Last month Forbes dedicated a space to sustainable tourism and the development and management of luxury eco lodges and sustainable resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We were proud to be featured and have received a lot of positive feedback from this article.  Here some of the highlights from the interview that Rahim Kanani did with Hans Pfister of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality.

Read the complete interview here.
Co-owners of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality Hans Pfister and Andrea Bonilla

Kanani:  Why did you decide to put sustainability at the heart of your company?

Pfister:  This is something we strongly believe in.   We have worked in regular hospitality operations and love the service aspect of things.  But we felt that something was missing.   Andrea grew up in a farm in northern Costa Rica and I received a lot of influence growing up in Germany in the 1980s when a lot of ecological movements were born.   It came natural to both of us.   We were on the forefront of sustainable hospitality in 1994 in Costa Rica long before it became a trend and the ” thing to do”.   We graduated from the “˜change your linen and save energy”™ approach of sustainability long time ago and moved into focusing on the local elements of the operations.   Now, we are currently redefining how we want to work sustainability into hospitality to move it to the next level.

Kanani:  What are some examples of properties in your portfolio that best exemplify eco-friendly design and operation?

Pfister:  In terms of design, we try to avoid air conditioning.   And if we put in air conditioning, we still try to create air flows and cross ventilation so that guests have the option to sleep with the windows open.   Many of them really appreciate this option so they can listen to the ocean or rain forest sounds.   We try to make sure that the properties do not ” stick out” and become eye sores.   We try to create a sense of place and make sure they fit in locally and take into consideration local culture.   Energy efficiency is a key element in design as well.   In terms of operations, we have a full handbook of sustainable practices but to sum it up in a few words, we really try to focus on the local element.   Hire only local staff, even management if possible.   If not, we train them to get there.   Our supplies and food should be as local as possible. Organic is great, but local is even more important.   We use biodegradable cleaning and cosmetic products, have state of the art recycling programs (but try to avoid trash even more) and try to minimize our carbon footprints.
Local children near Jicaro Island Eco Lodge in Lake Nicaragua.

Kanani:  From a business perspective, is doing right by the environment good for business?

Pfister:  We strongly believe that one is not mutually exclusive of the other.   Maybe some decisions do not maximize profits in the short term, but if you are in business for the long term, doing right by the environment is very good for business.   If we conserve the areas we operate, people will keep on coming back.   But if we overdevelop and overbuild, they loose their attraction.   Investing in people is hard sometimes and can be frustrating, but there is nothing more satisfying than converting the person that used to hunt in the rain forest in a nature guide and make him understand that an animal sitting on a tree that is observed by guests is worth 100 times more than one on the dinner table just once.

Kanani:  Looking at the landscape of eco-friendly and sustainable tourism more broadly, where do you believe the industry is heading?

Pfister:  This is a difficult question.   I think that in general, the hospitality industry is getting more sustainable in terms of energy consumption.   But I don”™t see the big hotels doing much more.   What I think that guests are looking for is truly authentic experiences in unspoiled natural settings.   We are working hard to provide those experiences.   I think they can only be provided by small hotels.   So having unique experiences and especially connecting with the locals is where I see things heading.  Guests don”™t want to be locked up behind hotel gates. They want to get out and see, smell and hear what is going on.   Visits to local markets (not the tourist ones), less travelled nature trails (not the ones where every   tour bus stops), authentic neighbourhood restaurants (not international franchises) and non-contrived interactions with locals for example at soccer games or local fairs are the things that guests really go for.    This is hard to do, but at Cayuga we look to create and recreate those experiences every day over and over again.

Osa Peninsula Toucan near Lapa Rios Eco Resort
Toucan at Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula

Kanani:  And finally, what are some of the leadership lessons you”™ve learned along the way?

Pfister:  Some of the lessons we have learned is that it takes patience to develop sustainable businesses.   By nature, sustainability is not focused on the short term.   We also learned that you really need to walk the talk.   Doing sustainability because it is a trend or because it is required to get a certification is not going to work for long.   Only if you really believe and you have people that believe with you, things can be done right and positive change can happen.  And of course it is all about the people.   I love to get positively surprised by the performance of employees in our hotels that lack any formal education but make up for it with attitude and dedication.

Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality is a company based in San Jose, Costa Rica, dedicated to the management and development of small hotels, resorts and in Latin America and the Caribbean that have an ecological, conservationist or sustainable aspect to it.  In 2010 & 2012, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality won the prestigious Conde Nast World Saver Awards in the category of Small Hotel Chains and Poverty Relief.

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