A friend brought our attention to an article in Hotels Magazine published last week with the title: Sustainability Upgrades no longer ‘nice to haves’. Of course, at first, we were very excited to see that the hotel industry is moving towards more sustainable practices. But then we realized that the article was once again purely focused on topics of energy efficiency and neglected to talk about the “essence of sustainability”, which are the people living and working in their communities.
Of course we applaud all initiatives to cut the use of energy and water, but there is just so much more to sustainability that is not getting any media attention and many companies shy away from going beyond topics of energy efficiency because it can become very complex and often difficult to implement. It is also important to understand that implementing sustainable practices is not always about cutting costs and that many times it is about doing the right thing, even if the costs are the same or slightly higher. Our banning of plastic straws is one of those examples.
Here are some of the topics, that we are currently working on at the various Cayuga Collection Hotels, Resorts and Lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We feel that they will have an enormous impact on the environment and communities where we operate.
Conservation of Wildlife Biodiversity
Not every hotel has a 1,000 acre reserve of Tropical Rain Forest in its backyard like Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. And of course, the initiatives taken by such a hotel in terms of wildlife conservation are far beyond those of a city hotel. However, there are measures that every hotel can implement in its green areas, no matter how small they are. We strive to have 100% local plants in the green areas of our hotels. For once it, ensures minimal water consumption for watering as the plants are already adapted to the yearly cycles of rain. But more importantly, those plants attract local wildlife. It is sometimes sad to see perfectly manicured gardens in topical hotels that are filled with exotic plants, but that are “sterile and dead” with not even local birds showing any interest in the plants. Another great example of wildlife conservation through sustainable agriculture is the Finca Rosa Blanca Organic Coffee Plantation in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica.
We strongly believe in supporting education in then communities that we operate at all levels. We support the local schools, offer internship opportunities to local youth and encourage our staff to continue to engage in studies. But we believe that educating children about the environment and the consequences of not taking care of it can be a game changer. We finance and support the Learning is Change program of Earth Equilibrium, an NGO that helps us educate children in the schools nearby our hotels. This happens during summer camp sessions as well as in weekly classes. The kids that have gone through this program become champions and drive the change to more sustainability in their communities over time.
Local Capacity Building
Working with local communities and offering opportunities of growth to the people that grew up or live nearby the Cayuga Collection Hotels is one of our most important mission. We operate mostly in rural areas and by offering high quality and year round employment, we offer especially young people an opportunity to stay near home instead of migrating to cities. We hire for attitude and train hospitality skills. We have a big training budget and believe in employing not only local maids, gardeners and drivers, but also giving opportunities to locals in top management positions. Here a great example of a recent blog post.
Empowering Women through Daycare
One of our biggest challenges have been to keep woman at work as many are struggling to find somebody to take care of their children while they work. So, we are currently exploring models to provide day care to these women that are often single mothers with a strong necessity for a stable income. We are exploring alliances with public and private entities and hope to have a pilot project in place in 2016.
Improvement of Health Services
Helping to provide health services to local communities is a key element in sustainability. This can be done in many ways and we have been involved in different projects ranging from educational activities on certain diseases, to bringing in specialized doctors on a regular basis for attention to staff and community members, to purchasing medical equipment for local health care centers to creating a company doctor program for the hotel staff and their children. Our current focus is on creating such a program for all of Cayuga’s hotels, resorts and lodges as we have seen the great benefits of this program at the Harmony Hotel in Guanacaste.
Waste Management beyond Recycling
We have been recycling at some of our lodges here in Costa Rica for well over 20 years and the Cayuga Collection Hotels have some of the countries most stringent recycling programs where we weight and monitor our production of waste on a weekly and monthly basis. However, we have come to learn that to have a big impact, it is not about recycling. It is about reducing or even rejecting. We have banned single use plastic bottles from our properties. And even if that means more than a million dollars in lost revenue, we believe it is the right thing to do. We are currently looking for ways to further reduce our production of trash by rejecting excessive packaging and increasing local purchases.
There are many more topics that we are working on such as maintaining a sense of place by purchasing local furniture and decor or of course our programs supporting local farmers, purchasing hormone free beef and chicken and rejecting non sustainable seafood. We will cover those and other topics in one of our future blogs. We hope though, that the focus of sustainability in the hospitality industry will shift from energy savings only to impact on people and communities. We would love to hear your opinion on this. Either as a comment on this blog or by e-mail to [email protected]