Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2012

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dave Newport

Second Advisor

Mark Williams

Third Advisor

Dale Miller

Abstract

Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) is a program designed to encourage the Costa Rican hotel industry to implement sustainable practices that maintain the country’s image as a world leader of nature-based, conservation-based tourism. This study investigated the strengths and weaknesses of the CST to gauge the reliability of the acclaimed program. Conducting extensive background research, reviewing previous literature, performing a case study and comparing the CST to two other distinctive programs helped to determine what factors contribute to and hinder the program’s reliability. In the case study, stream quality data suggested black-water pollution of the Quebrada Sin Nombre (“No Name Stream”) by El Establo Mountain Resort, a certified sustainable hotel in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This research helped to determine that there are several inadequacies that the program must address in order to ensure its credibility and create a certification seal that consumers can trust. Analysis showed that while the CST provides adequate consumer access to online information, it has failed to update this information and the program’s criteria to reflect improved technology and improved knowledge regarding sustainability. While the program is credible in that it requires third party verification, it fails to frequently audit hotels to verify compliance. In addition, while the program integrates a well tiered, five-level system, the minimum required compliance for certification sets the bar too low. Little quantifiable evidence was found regarding the CST’s ability to promote sustainable change. As a result, seven recommendations were produced for the CST to use as a platform to ensure its credibility and its ability to produce sustainable outputs: (1) Expanding financing options, (2) Increasing the baseline for certification membership, (3) Implementing standards that measure the hotel’s impacts, (4) Creating a more stringent auditing process, (5) Improving and marketing the certification’s nomenclature, (6) Publicizing information, enabling consumer input and increasing market demand and (7) Incentivizing hotels. Costa Rica represents only 0.01 percent of the Earth’s surface while harboring more than five percent of the world’s biodiversity; therefore, successfully implementing a sustainable tourism scheme in Costa Rica can have global impacts.

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