In the late 1980s, John and Karen Lewis, two former Peace Corps volunteers from Minnesota, came to Costa Rica. What they had in mind was to purchase a parcel of endangered rainforest for conservation, build a school for the local community, and develop a high-end ecolodge to generate conservation funds, employment and offer an inspiring, educative experience for visitors. Their pioneering project became known as Lapa Rios Ecolodge, and has saved thousands of trees and touched hundreds of lives since its opening in 1992. To this day some 27 years on, Lapa Rios is still considered an exemplary model for sustainable luxury tourism.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. John and Karen quickly realized that running a luxury ecolodge in a remote area of Costa Rica was challenging. They realized their need for an exit strategy. In April of 1999, John and Karen closed the lodge for a week and invited experts from around the world to the “Ecolodge Owner Dilemma Conference” in order to find a solution. It was an intense workshop and in the end there were two clear conclusions. In order to be sustainable, Lapa Rios needed professional management and the rainforest needed to be protected in perpetuity.
The professional management part was solved by hiring the Cayuga Collection, a Costa Rica based management company for small sustainable luxury hotels and lodges. For the last 20 years John and Karen have been working with Cayuga’s owners, Hans Pfister and Andrea Bonilla, to successfully bring state of the art hotel management to the tropical rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. And Lapa Rios has gone from strength to strength.
The conservation part was solved by signing an easement with Cedarena, a Costa Rican NGO and Nature Conservancy to ensure that no tree ever gets cut down in the private reserve which protects some of Central America’s last remaining lowland coastal rainforest. As a result of John and Karen’s conservation efforts, the amount of wildlife has increased dramatically in the area.
The Ecolodge Owner Dilemma has been “under control” for the past 20 years with the guaranteed protection of the rainforest in place and the professional management services provided by Cayuga. But now in their mid-seventies, John and Karen have also been looking to pass on the torch of ownership to a perfect buyer. One who would honor their legacy, take care of their ‘baby’, and also pay a fair price, giving hope to all those ecotourism entrepreneurs out there that their blood, sweat and tears will be honored someday.
Today, Lapa Rios was sold to that perfect buyer.
And to none other than the owners of Pacuare Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World just like Lapa Rios. They are Costa Rican, understand ecotourism and have a passion for hospitality. John and Karen are at ease in the knowledge that their lodge, the trees in the surrounding forest and the staff are in good hands. Mission accomplished.
Ecolodge Owner Dilemma resolved.