P3: People Planet Peace Ecotourism Conference in San Jose Costa Rica
Does the Costa Rican Tourism model have a chance to survive the arrival of mass tourism that are built upon sun and beach vacation models? We think so and have a lot of faith in that model. The Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges are living proof that the model can thrive and do well.
But, what exactly is the Costa Rican Tourism Model? It means visiting several destinations within one single vacation staying at several small individually owned hotels and lodges and spreading the tourism dollar democratically among transportation providers, tours and attractions, restaurants and other businesses that cater to visitors.
When we get a chance to visit tourism destinations in other parts of the world and interact with our colleagues in tourism there, we realize how much they admire the Costa Rican Tourism Model and how privileged we are to be operating under such great conditions. But as mentioned in our previous blogs, the model is under “attack” and in certain parts of the country we are drifting further and further towards the traditional and not so sustainable model that is based on sun and beach tourism.
The Costa Rican Chamber of Ecotourism (CANAECO) has been organizing international Ecotourism conferences for several years and it has been a great platform to discuss topics like these. For the 2015 Conference held last September in San Jose, we were invited to help recruit guest speakers from around the world. We reached out to friends and colleagues from different countries and invited them to come and share their experiences with us in hope to gain insights on how to defend our model.
We also reached out to one of Latin America’s best business schools that is based here in Costa Rica (INCAE) and asked them to help us a put together a study that would quantify the benefits of the Costa Rican Tourism Model. Arturo Conde, the former dean of this business school presented the first findings and his presentation and left a strong impact on the audience. Increased seasonality fluctuations between high and green season and decreased tourism dollars spent per visitor were identified as main indicators that the Costa Rican tourism model might be in decline and in danger of being replaced by a sun and beach model.
Lawrence Pratt, another INCAE professor made an even stronger case that not every visitor is equal and that the ministry of tourism should not be judged if they are doing a good job in promoting the country by quantity of visitors, but rather by quality. It became clear that one of the big tasks as a country in the next years will be to fight seasonality through promoting the natural and cultural aspects of the country more and to make sure that we are attracting tourists that pay fair prices and spend their dollars “democratically” and not just in one place.
It always helps to better understand one’s own situation by looking at what is happening in tourism and sustainable tourism around the world. Three of the speakers that we invited left a great impact on the audience sharing their stories from Jordan, Mozambique and Scandinavia.
Amy Carter shared her story of dreaming up and building Guludo Eco Lodge in Northern Mozambique, one of the poorest areas of the world. She and her husband have found innovative, grass-root solutions to lift vulnerable children and their families out of poverty through tourism. Her presentation was a great motivation for the audience to be reminded of the positive power that tourism can have if done right.
Muna Haddad’s presentation focused on the challenges of doing tourism in Jordan that is surrounded by neighbors like Iraq and Syria that are at war. While the presentations at the P3 conference “People – Planet – Peace” mostly revolve around People and Planet, it became very clear how important the concept of “peace” is for tourism in general but especially for sustainable tourism and Ecotourism. This is widely taken for granted here in Costa Rica due to the peaceful past of the country and the social stability.
Neil Rogers shared his experiences of working in a set of countries that are widely considered to be among the “most expensive” destinations in the world. He shared his experiences as a consultant in sustainable tourism working in Sweden and Norway. Costa Rica is certainly not a “low cost” destination and it would be very hard – and as agreed by all consultants – not desirable to compete on price. The benefits to the local populations are much higher in higher priced tourism destinations. However, it is crucial to provide the visitors with high quality and unique experiences to justify the premium price. In the end it is about perceived value, not price.
The Planet People Peace P3 Conference of 2015 was a great success. The planning for the next conference in 2017 has started. If you are interested in participating or learning more, send us a not to [email protected]. After hearing the presentations by Muna and Amy, one of the panelists recommended to add a fourth “P” for Passion. We are thinking about it…