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Tough Questions: Planet, People, Peace in Costa Rica (Day 4)


by Ed Wetschler

Ruud Klep has a different day job than most of the other people at the Second International Planet, People, and Peace Conference. He does not operate an ecolodge, work for a sustainable tourism NGO, or serve the government. But like many of the others, Klep views the world of tourism in terms of the world beyond tourism.

The former director of the Travel Foundation of the Netherlands and now a consultant in the travel business, Klep is deeply involved with mass tourism. And his remarks remind me that even with the enormous growth of the sustainable tourism market, it is the not-so-green cruiseships and resorts that  most tourists are choosing.

I nod my head as he’s talking, because it seems self-evident that mass tourism businesses use up an awful lot of land, disrupt communities and cultures, and burn through megatons of agricultural and mineral resources. They also spew out plenty of solid, liquid and (here’s where climate change comes in) gas garbage.

“Even if every traveler wanted to stay at an ecolodge,” Klep explains to me during a break in the conference, “that just wouldn’t be possible. They would overrun small rural communities; the system would not be sustainable.”

“Besides,” he continues, “Why should every tourist be interested in the locals’ lives? And why must a local farmer play host to outsiders? Why can’t more farming families be able to thrive by doing what they do best, which is to sell produce – say, to a nearby hotel?” Philosophically, that’s a slightly different approach from that of community-run Il N’gwesi Lodge, described here a couple of days ago.

“The challenge is to make the vacations that most people choose more friendly to the environment and to local cultures. And that, says Klep, “means making the tour operators’ supply chains more transparent.”

That night, at Finca Rosa Blanca, a lovely ecolodge in Costa Rica, I find myself thinking about those large resorts, cruiseships, and the like: How do we convince a megaresort to source as much food as possible locally rather than import it from, say, Florida or even France, as do many properties in the Caribbean? How to convince cruise ships to use more efficient fuels, waste less food, and stop dumping waste and trash in sensitive waters?

Some speakers at this conference have pointed out that more government/international regulations are critical. Some have spoken eloquently about the importance of certification and accreditation systems. Others have noted the importance of voluntary initiatives by travelers, such as buying carbon offset credits. Still others have emphasized the importance of making tourism more sustainable by making sustainability increasingly profitable.

And you?

Click here to read Ed Wetschler’s final report, as  a hurricane sweeps through Costa Rica.

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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