Arenas del Mar Room

Should I trust Tripadvisor’s Sustainability Initiative? 

The pros and cons of Tripadvisor’s Green Leader Program.

Tripadvisor launched its “Green Leader” program in the US in April 2013 and since then has awarded over 4,000 North American properties with either a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Badge.  In March 2014, the program launched in Europe and Canada with great success as well.   In early 2015 the Cayuga Collection Hotels & Lodges were among the first properties to receive Platinum badges in Latin America.

lapa rios eco lodge
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica was one of the first hotels in Latin America to receive the Platinum Badge from Tripadvisor for its environmental efforts.

When asked why Tripadvisor launched the program, Jenny Rushmore, Head of Responsible Travel at Tripadvisor points out that Tripadvisor’s research indicated a growing interest of travelers in responsible  practices while vacationing as well as Tripadvisor’s desire to help hotels showcase their sustainability efforts to potential guests.

We applaud Tripadvisor for this initiative and think it will help to raise awareness among travelers.  However, we also have some concerns that we would like to address in this blog.

There is no Verification

Any hotel can put any kind of claims on sustainable initiatives or programs and send in the survey to Tripadvisor.  So, if properties that are not following sustainable practices  start noticing that competitors receive more business due to the Green Leader’s Program, they might be tempted to sign up without really being sustainable.  Some kind of a verification system (maybe even through guests) should be implemented in the future.

Platinum level badge
See the Platinum Level Ranking on the Tripadvisor Website on the upper right. In this case for Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Unfortunately, there is no verification of this rating yet.

True Sustainable Practices are Not Recognized

The architects of the Green Leaders program contacted Cayuga to get some feedback on the program prior to its launch in Latin American and the Caribbean in the fall of 2014.  We sent in a set of recommendations, but feel we were not really heard.  For example, hotels that use energy efficient air conditioning score high, but properties that due to great passive design have been able to avoid air conditioning overall do not receive any recognition.

A similar issue is the use of water in plastic bottles.  Recycling is awarded, but refusing to use harmful materials or reducing the use of materials is not mentioned in the criteria.  We know from our own experience that not using plastic bottles nor plastic straws is hard and sometimes “costly”, but it is much better than just recycling.

There is a reward for having gardens and green areas, but no encouragement is given to use native plants that attract the local flora and fauna and that most likely do not require excessive watering in the summer months.   We are not sure about their policy about golf.

Topics like Wildlife conservation, community development or local purchasing are not taken into consideration in the Tripadvisor Green Leaders Program. The main focus is on energy and water conservation.

Very Little Focus on “Local”

Recently, we published a blog on how the interpretation of sustainable practices in North America is mostly focused on energy efficiency.  The same is true for the Tripavisor’s Green Leaders program.  The Tripadvisor staff member that answered our e-mail with recommendations on how to improve the program pointed out:  “This is very hard.  We are not sure how to do this.”  At Cayuga, we think it is possible and very necessary.

There should be more focus on purchasing and the use of local goods.  From food to drinks to furniture,  and building materials, whenever possible.  And most importantly, the focus need to be on the local people.  What about hiring locals, giving them opportunities through training and career paths.  And not only in line position, but also in management.   How many of the staff or management teams are women?  Do the hotels support health initiatives in the local communities?  The list can go on and on.

Rodbin Bonilla, Guest Services Manager at Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort. Rodbin was part of the hotel’s construction crew, then became a bellboy and now is part of the management team.

But of course, there are also positives.  Here is what we really like about the program.  When reviewing a hotel that is part of the green leaders program, each guest has the opportunity to add a comment specifically about the hotel’s green practices.  This is really great as reviewers sometimes focus more on the room, food, location and service.  Take a look at some examples of comments that our hotels recently received.  This is a great motivation for us.  We see that our efforts are noticed and appreciated.

Green Features: We went on the hotel’s sustainability tour and we were quite impressed with their eco friendly practices. They truly care about their environment and community.

Green Features: This is an incredibly sustainable property and you can do a great tour to learn more about it and see how you can do it at home.

Green Features: They are a true eco-lodge. so many claim to be but this one is. You can even tour their practices. They are transparent.

Green Features: Perfection! They are in a country that advocates zero carbon footprinting… and they do all they can to promote responsible vacationing.

Kura Design Villas
The spectacular pool at Kura Design Villas in Uvita, Costa Rica.  Guest typically comment on the hotel facilities, the food and the service. Green Leaders gives them the space to comment on a hotel’s sustainable practices as well.

We thank Tripadvisor for this great initiative and continue to offer our support to improve the Green Leaders program further.  In case we can be of help, send us a note to [email protected].

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