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When we take a breath of fresh air, pour a cool glass of water or look out over a breathtaking landscape, should we have to pay for it? In Costa Rica, a handful of businesses are saying that we should, if we expect these resources to be there for us in the long term.
Among those promoting this 21st-Century attitude, Costa Rica-based Horizontes Nature Tours this year donated $10,000 to pay for trees that shelter its country’s biodiversity, protect its watersheds, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and make the country’s landscape a top tourist attraction.
“Oftentimes we don’t appreciate what we get for free,” said Horizontes General manager Wilfrid Aiello. “But perhaps more than any other industry, tourism owes its existence to the availability of recreation areas, beautiful landscapes and the natural and cultural resources that attract and sustain travelers.”
A Vanguard Program?
The company’s investment is distributed locally through a vanguard Costa Rican Forestry Fund (FONAFIFO), which initiated an Environmental Services Payment program to encourage the conservation and reforestation of lands found outside of national parks and wildlife reserves. The program provides financial incentives to local landowners for every tree they leave standing or plant on their properties.
The program pays $816 per hectare annually for planting trees with the aid and supervision of onsite inspections, monitored with GPS satellite technology. Property owners have found greater economic value in living trees than in timber cut for one-time profit. Currently the program has 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) under its supervision.
“We are one of the few countries in the world that offer local and multinational companies the opportunity to invest in the tangible and intangible services that nature provides,” said Alberto Garcia, in charge of fundraising for FONAFIFO.” This program reflects and represents the innovative spirit of Costa Rica—a country at the forefront of sustainable development initiatives.”
Horizontes is directing its payments to those farms located near Corcovado National Park on the southern Pacific Coast, as part of a five-year commitment to the protection of this area.
“We hope this will help create a biological corridor providing wild animals in Corcovado more room to move and breed,” said Aiello.
Although the program was not aimed only at tourism, Horizontes says it is the perfect match for the industry, and hopes others follow suit.
“By bringing our travelers in close contact with nature, we are also in the business of providing environmental services. Aside from being good for our country’s future and the future of the planet, making sure that our cultural and natural heritage remains intact just makes good business sense,” said Aiello.
If you would like to support Costa Rica’s Environmental Services Payment Program, Horizontes can provide options on how to do so, making each trip to Costa Rica and investment in nature.
The program also offers a way to calculate how much carbon is absorbed by new forest growth, with potential to sequester more than 16 tons of carbon from the atmosphere, and provide rural Costa Ricans with $42.8 million for their reforestation and conservation efforts.
Through FONAFIFO, Horizontes is researching ways to offer all its travelers the option of a “Green Upgrade,” in which the carbon dioxide produced from their transportation can be offset, adding value to the way people see their vacation experience.
“This is not what most of our travelers are currently asking us for,” says Patricia Forero, Product Development Manager for Costa Rica based Horizontes Nature Tours, “but we are hoping the offer gets their attention, and at least gets them to ask us what it means.”
Horizontes’ involvement in the FONAFIFO project is the latest in a string of sustainable practices the company is applying to its ecotourism business model.
Most recently Horizontes became the first tour operator in Costa Rica to earn the highest possible 5-leaf rating with the country’s official Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). The certification process measures service management and the quality of client interaction, as well as impact on Costa Rica’s natural, cultural and social resources.
“Certification helps us ensure that our business is sustainable,” said Horizontes General Manager Wilfrid Aiello. “It also tells our partners that we are serious about preserving Costa Rica’s treasures for those who follow in the footsteps of our travelers.”
Horizontes efforts in sustainability also brings benefits to the company itself, says Aiello, by keeping staff motivated, fostering stronger bonds with suppliers and partners, and helping the company ensure quality through strict environmental, social, operational and ethical policies. orizontes manage the donation
This certification comes in the same year Horizontes was honored with a Corporate Green Globe award by the New York-based Rainforest Alliance for its work in support of best management practices for sustainable tourism, as well as its conservation efforts throughout 22 years in the industry.
“The recent recognition for these efforts only drives us to do more,” said Forero, who had just finished organizing a private screening of Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth” for Horizontes’ suppliers, office and field staff, as well as fellow tourism operators, and friends and family.
“We brought together almost 500 people for that event at Costa Rica’s largest cinema,” said Forero, who is already planning another event for the company. “To spread awareness about any issue, you have to be in it for the long haul,” she added.
- For more information about Costa Rica’s National Forestry Fund and its Environmental Services Payment Program, visit www.fonafifo.com/english.html
- For more information on Horizontes’ efforts in sustainability, check our new section on sustainable travel at http://www.horizontes.com/newsite/
- For more information on the CST, please visit the official website at: http://www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr/EN/home.shtml
Horizontes Nature Tours
San José, Costa Rica
Tel: (506) 222-2022 / Fax: (506) 255-4513