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Tough Questions: Planet, People, Peace in Costa Rica (Day 3)


Hitesh Mehta.

Authentic Ecolodges: The Definitive Guide?

By Ed Wetschler


Hitesh Mehta, an expert on sustainable travel, says that the 36 properties in his new book are the most authentic ecolodges on the planet, so he named this large, photo-rich tome Authentic Ecolodges. Some people are just good with titles.

What makes Mehta an expert? He’s a world renowned architect and landscape architect who specializes in these sorts of getaways. In 1995 he created the criteria for the International Ecolodge guidelines. Although he is a Kenyan of Indian descent, he’s currently in Costa Rica, where he’s worked on projects like the new master plan for Lapa Rios Ecolodge.

Ecoresort Architect

Mehta, with whom I had dinner one night during the Second International Planet, People Peace Conference in Costa Rica, is a forceful speaker, even in a restaurant. He declares, “I don’t let clients interview me; I interview them. I won’t take them on unless I know they are serious.”

Four years ago he left a very high-powered, high-paying position to write this book.

“I spent several years and $700,000 on this book,” he exclaims, shocked at his own obsessiveness. “Much of this money was for travel expenses, because I visited lodges in 46 countries.  I had to really stay at many lodges, because there is so much greenwashing. And I was strict about who made my short list. I omitted my best friend’s lodge. I left out one of my own clients’ lodges!”

Ouch.

What were your criteria? I ask.

“There were 11 criteria, and to make the final list, a lodge had to meet 5 of them,” he explains. “But not just any five, because three were musts: An authentic ecolodge must (1) help the environment, (2) benefit the locals, and (3) offer a rich interpretative experience through, say, locally guided explorations of the environment and the culture.”

If you read my previous post from the P3 meeting, that will sound familiar.

“I had other criteria, too, because many ecolodges offer adventure travel or wellness travel programs,” he says. “But the three I mentioned are mandatory.”

The Ecolodge / Ecoresort Difference

As we talk, I accidentally slip in the word “ecoresort.” Mehta points out that an ecoresort is not an ecolodge.

“An ecolodge must have no more than 75 rooms! An ecoresort has 75 to 150. It needs all those rooms because it promises certain amenities. A pool. Maybe even golf.”

He is not done with this subject.

“An ecolodge is like a 100% electric car. An ecoresort,” he says, “is like a hybrid.”

Mehta will soon roll out a website, AuthenticEcolodges.com, with information and booking capability for his 36 sites. “But what if someone visiting your website wants to book a lodge that isn’t on your list?”

“I won’t book any lodge that did not make my list! I am a Gandhian, and I live by his principles.”

Our dinner comes. I get the chicken wrapped in bacon. Mehta digs into the vegan platter.

Next: Day 4

Ed Wetschler, Associate Editor of Everett Potter’s Travel Report, has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky, Caribbean Travel & Life, the Official Pennsylvania Guide, and other print and new media. He is president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine

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