LEARNING FROM LEADERS: The Cayuga approach to ecotourism and sustainable destinations


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Author: Chris Milnes (independent consultant)
Presentation for Topic 4: Product Development Strategies for Better Visitor Experience
2nd European Ecotourism Conference
23-25 October 2013, Romania

Published in: Education, Technology, Travel
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  • Pigs – what do they have to do with quality ecotourism experiences and achieving sustainable destinations? More than you might think.Hopefully by the end of this presentation you’ll understand why I started with this slide, and have gathered some good ideas for discussion in the process. But before I begin I would like to tell you a little story. In August 2011 I decided to leave my job as a lawyer in the European Parliament. I was no longer fulfilled by my career as a lawyer and decided to learn more about my passion – ecotourism. Now, just over two years later I’m speaking in front of you at the European Ecotourism Conference and I’m so happy to be here. My transition from the legal field to ecotourism wouldn’t have been possible without the help and guidance of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality.
  • Last year I spent 3 months working with Cayuga, during which I learnt an enormous amount about ecotourism and sustainable practices. It’s for this reason that I would like to talk to you today about their approach to ecotourism and sustainable destinations so that hopefully too can learn from these leaders in the field.
  • To give you a bit of background information, -Cayuga are based in San Jose, Costa Rica- Set up in 1999- 8 sustainable hotels and ecolodges throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua- Directly employ over 300 local peopleAnnual Sales close to $8 million Twice winners of Conde Nast World Saver’s Award. Named the world’s most socially responsible small hotel chainVoted the best in every category assessed: education programs, health initiatives, poverty relief, preservation (environmental and cultural), wildlife conservation and "doing it all".
  • Amongst the hotels managed by Cayuga are: Kura Design Villas – the latest edition.
  • Lapa Rios – one of the most highly respected ecolodges in the world.
  • Finca Rosa Blanca – with it’s own organic coffee plantation. Recently voted the best hotel in Central America by the readers of Conde Nast Traveller.
  • And Arenas del Mar – the only 5* hotel to be awarded the highest sustainability rating in Costa Rica
  • Focus on the title of this workshop to ensure we have some interesting and useful discussions:To start I want to focus on the first part of the title: How do we create a quality ecotourism experience?We must first define what is a “quality ecotourism experience”Cayuga model breaks down this notion into four elements:
  • Experience.Unique & Memorable experiencesExperiences guests can’t have elsewhereExperiences that are hands onExperiences that effect all 5 senses so that guests can immerse themselves in the momentExamples:Zooming down a zipwire 30 metres up – experiencing first hand the life of a rainforest canopyWatching capuchin monkeys whilst having breakfastHiring bikes and exploring the local areaTo think about:- What experiences can your country/region/destination offer that fulfil these criteria?
  • Through the ecotourism experience, guests should also learn.Expose themselves to new ideasImmerse themselves in something new & differentLeave feeling like they’ve gained something of valueSomething they can share at homeExamples:Taking a surf lesson with a local instructorLearning how to recognise different animals during a nature walkCooking local specialitiesPicking up tips from sustainability tours offered at each hotelWhat can you offer at your own resorts/destinations?-
  • CONNECTCayuga has a strong belief that travel should include meaningful connectionsWant guests to feel personal connection withemployeesmembers of the local communities local culture and customsExamples: Vistlocal schoolsTake part in local dance lessonsGet to know the local staff – or maybe even the local animals!What can you do in your own resorts/destinations/regions/countries?
  • And finally – the key element for successful ecotourism experiences with Cayuga is to allow guests to relax and completely unwind.Examples include:Lounging in hammocks on the beachRelaxing in your own private jacuzziSwimming with your eyes open in a chlorine free poolAnd what is unique to the Cayuga approach is that they also allow staff and hotel owners the privilege to relaxStaff activities once a month: beach volleyball, football at arenasGiven the opportunity to go on tours, stay in the hotel during low season
  • Second part of the topic for this workshop – how to achieve sustainable destinations?Again – we should define a sustainable destination in the first place.A sustainable destination should satisfy the requirements of today’s society without making it impossible for future generations to satisfy their own.  
  • For the tourism industry, sustainability consists of three main factors: environmental, social and economic.Environmental: The impact of the hotel property on surrounding natural areas. Efficient use of resources: water, energy, foodstuffs, paperSocial:  Community development and engagement, how to improve the living conditions, infrastructure and operations of the communities in which the hotel properties and employees reside.Economic:  The operation must remain viable and successful. Sustainability should be a reality for all businesses.Cayuga believes that a sustainable tourism operation needs to balance all three of these factors in order to achieve a success.  But how does Cayuga achieve this?
  • Sustainability coordinators play a key role: incorporate sustainability at every level of operation.Sustainability Coordinator at every hotelOversee sustainability measures in every departmentIncentives and programs for staff – leaf system, rewards, monthly recognitionInformation and exposure for guests – presentations, sustainability toursLiaises with community – visits schools, artisans, indigenous groupsRegular checkupsSustainability Director at corporate levelOversees hotel coordinatorsEnsures Cayuga is at the cutting edge of sustainabilityCayuga focuses on three categories of sustainability:
  • ONSITE SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENTOperations of the Cayuga hotels focus hard to incorporate the highest standards of sustainability:Wastewater Management: Water that leaves properties keeps surrounding ecosystems healthy and functional.Energy Usage:  Monitoring energy usage and constantly trying to lower our ecological footprint.Water Usage:  ResponsibleSolid Waste Reduction:  Working to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste.Natural and Native Plant Landscaping:  Maintaining the natural characteristics of local ecosystems.Responsible Consumption:  Purchasing products that are in line with values and philosophies.Highlighting Local Culture and Flavor:  Incorporate cultural elements from the surrounding community Certification:  Theme of this conference. Being recognised for sustainability efforts.Guests are encouraged to re-use their towelsSheets are changed every other day unless a guest requests daily, and they are reminded to be mindful of water use during their showers.  Guestbooks in each room talk about these procedures and there are signs in the rooms that remind the guest.  Low flow toilets, water-free urinals, low consumption taps and shower headsblack water treatment systems: reuse all “dirty” water to irrigate gardens.  Chlorine free pools - salt and ionization systemsBiodegradable cleaning products, toiletries biodegradable and organic
  • Engagement and Inspiration:Immediate community - staffEducation: reimbursement plans that assist those employees who wish to continue their studies.Health: sponsoring activities and campaigns that promote the well being of our associates – laparios marathonJob training and development, training our associates to be more knowledgeable and skilled in their positions so that they can learn and grow.Local communities – created a programme to ensure:Nature:  Assuring that the surrounding ecosystems stay healthy and sustainable. Building Green and Sustainable Communities:  Supporting the concept and implementation of green and sustainable growth and development. Education:  Improving the education of communities surrounding our properties for a better and more sustainable future.Health:  Working to guarantee that our communities stay happy and healthy.Culture:  Assuring that our local communities maintain their unique culture and sense of livelihood.Inspire people to live more socially-responsible and fulfilling livesStaff membersTraining in sustainable developmentSustainability committees – formed to develop initiativesEvents foster community engagement and awarenessIncentives for sustainable practices – rewards, employee of monthGuests:Highlight sustainability on properties through tours and promotional materialPromote participation in philanthropy projects endorsed by our propertiesPersuade guests to visit and support natural areas surrounding  our propertiesEncourage guests to live greener and more sustainable lifestylesLocal and Global Community:Educate locals on the importance of sustainable practicesTeach other businesses, schools and organizations how to incorporate sustainabilityParticipate in committees that strive towards sustainable developmentWork with suppliers to provide the necessary tools and materials that we need to fulfill our vision.
  • There are of course challenges to creating sustainable destinations:all staff have to be engaged and contribute their part dailystaff may have willingness, but lack knowledge and understanding about how Solutionconsistent on the job training built into the policies and procedures of daily work; built into job descriptions and employee evaluations;  system of rewards and empowering supervision.  training and education on specific themes is also used throughout the year.
  • Key to success is the ability to combine the two parts of this topic –Create quality ecotourism experiences through sustainabilityHow?1.       Know your guest – their profile/type 2.       Cater the activity/tactic to engage to that profile/type (the majority) so that it becomes too easy to get them involved somehow3.       Provide variety of activities/tactics on a continuous basis4.       Keep the messages simple yet interesting (don’t overwhelm or preach)As little or as much involvement:Easy: Offsetting carbon emissions, donating to local causesObserving: sustainability tours, information boards, talks, question & answersHands on: Teaching English, beach cleaning, tree plantingMake guests feel like they are contributing and getting involvedImportant to gain feedback from guests to see what works
  • And be creative! Pigs – poo – methane – gas – food scraps and repeat: the ultimate in sustainability and a quality ecotourism experience for guests!
  • LEARNING FROM LEADERS: The Cayuga approach to ecotourism and sustainable destinations

    1. 1. LEARNING FROM LEADERS The Cayuga approach to ecotourism and sustainable destinations
    3. 3. EXPERIENCE
    4. 4. LEARN
    5. 5. CONNECT
    6. 6. RELAX
    8. 8. The Cayuga Approach
    9. 9. Sustainability at all levels
    10. 10. Onsite Sustainability Management
    11. 11. Engagement and Inspiration
    12. 12. Challenges
    13. 13. Sustainability as an Experience
    14. 14. Thank you for listening www.cayugaonline.com chris@TheRealLifeProject.com