Abrupt climate changes that have affected the island in recent years have directly and indirectly impacted various areas of tourism, such as facilities, infrastructure, activities and attractions, Tourism Company Executive Director Mario González-Lafuente said Monday.
As a result, the Tourism Company has developed strategies aimed at developing a strong sustainable tourism and a further boost ecotourism, which represents the largest segment of tourism growth worldwide, as well as strengthen the industry through eco-friendly methods that promote preserving the environment as well as tourism facilities, he said during a news conference.
Part of the strategy calls for entering into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Solid Waste Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was signed in April 2011, to generate “sustainable, financial and environmental benefits for Puerto Rico’s hotel industry,” he said.
“Based on this, we have offered a series of lectures at endorsed hotels and inns throughout the island, and they will be offered subsequently to endorsed tour operators to encourage them to enroll in the Tourism Company’s ‘Green Certification Program’,” González said.
The certification program incorporates design and operational guidelines for sustainable and eco-tourism facilities, making Puerto Rico the first Caribbean destination to create its own measuring instruments, without the need to use international eco labels. Costa Rica did the same thing many years ago in Central America, with great success, the Tourism chief noted.
As part of the Tourism Company’s new sustainable tourism strategies, it has established a page on its website to list hotels that have already been certified as ‘green’ on an international level. The agency is also working on the ‘green certification’ logo, which will be granted based on levels: basic, intermediate, superior.
“We must emphasize that beyond the promotional benefits that the hotel or guesthouse will receive from its ‘green certification,’ its greatest benefit will be a decrease in operating expenses,” he noted.
Two ways to address climate changes
Tourism Company officials believe there are two ways to address challenges posed by climate changes: reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, including tourism, and develop strategies for adapting to climate change, said José Juan Terrasa, the agency’s director of planning.
“This new program tries to drive us start walking down that first avenue: to reduce the impact of tourism activity, reducing energy consumption, promoting the change to renewable energy and recycling materials and waste, among other strategies,” said the expert in environmental issues.
The certification process will begin with a mailing of the operational guidelines for hotels, so they can learn of the criteria on which they will be evaluated. Next, they must fill out an application to register in the program. Once inspected, if certified, the property will receive a compliance certificate that will be given free of charge for a two-year term. In contrast, obtaining an international eco label can cost more than $5,000, agency officials said.
“We’re very excited about conducting this ‘green certification’ program, because through this we’re promoting the implementation of assertive sustainable tourism practices at our hotels, guesthouses and tour operators, opening up opportunities to attract new visitors to the destination and actively contributing to position Puerto Rico as a leading destination in the Caribbean with regard to sustainable tourism,” González LaFuente said.