Handprint vs. Footprint – How to travel in a sustainable way?

This is a Guest Blog written by Carolin Seiferth. A student at the Hochschule Stralsund in Germany. She will finish a 6-month internship at Senda Monteverde, a Cayuga Collection Hotel next month.

When I told my friends last year that I would like to put a heavy emphasis on sustainability in tourism during my internship which is part of my Bachelor studies in Germany, everybody was really excited. During these days, where everybody is talking about climate change and changing their own lifestyle accordingly, words like “Flygskam” are becoming part of our everyday conversations. The solution? It’s easy: only travel by public, avoid destinations which require long-distance flights from your bucket list, visit grandpa instead of the Grand Canyon or don’t visit anyone at all and “staycation”.

Carolin (on the left) with the Guest Service Team at Senda Monteverde.

When I told my friends that I’m planning to go to Costa Rica for my internship, excitement dropped immediately. “You want to work in sustainable tourism but you’re leaving a 4840kg-CO² footprint only caused by your flight? ” And honestly, before taking a look behind the scenes of the Cayuga Collection, I didn’t know how to come up with a counterargument.

In travel guides, Costa Rica is hailed as a great example of a sustainable, nature-based tourism destination. There are over 20 national parks that make up one-third of the country’s total surface. My goal: working for the Cayuga Collection in their newest hotel Senda Monteverde, which is situated in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. Cayuga is a collection of 10 award-winning sustainable boutique hotels and lodges in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. They aim for the ultimate symbiosis of luxury and sustainability. Tourism done differently – that was the slogan that got me hooked.

And so, I took the plane last year September and flew to Costa Rica.

Carolin spent her Internship in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Most of our guests arrive by plane and therefore find themselves in the same situation before starting their vacation: the kerosene strip in the sky and the sustainable hotel that awaits.

In my case, “Adventure Awaits” as it says on the website of our Hotel Senda Monteverde here in the tropical Cloud Forest. Every hotel at Cayuga aims to protect the environment, create local employment opportunities and unique experiences for their guests – all while generating financial sustainability at the end of the day.

What therefore is Sustainable Travel or an eco-friendly vacation?

If tourism should be done in a sustainable way, it’s not enough to ban the little shampoo bottles in the guest bathrooms. Or offsetting your emissions through donations for environmental projects via Atmosfair. If tourism is meant to be sustainable, we have to take the triple-bottom-line into account. The three P’s: Planet, People, Prosperity.

Explaining the model of Senda’s triple-bottom-line to our guests during our Sustainability Tour is just the beginning of this 45-minute tour through the property.

We at Senda know that our guests drive up to Monteverde to explore this unique parcel of Cloud Forest and therefore it’s a logical consequence to strive for protecting the nature that surrounds us here. The Cloud Forest is home to 2.5% of the biodiversity of the whole planet. Only 450 visitors per day can visit the national park Reserva Monteverde, not more than 250 at a time, and entrance fees are put towards maintaining the preserve. Our staff members are part of forest clean-ups, we are currently working on a program to teach environmental education at local schools and planted almost 6000 native plants since our opening in December 2018 on our property.  This is for the P of Planet.

What about people, our staff and our guests alike? Senda currently employs 50 staff members, whereas 85% of them live within walking distance to the hotel. We have career-planning in place and there are cross-training opportunities with other hotels of the Cayuga Collection. If you want to climb the career ladder you start with an English language class. We employ year-round and pay above-average wages.

At Cayuga we believe that vacations can become truly transformative for our guests. If we can exemplify how easy it is to live a more sustainable lifestyle, a first step in the right direction is made. If guests furthermore join us on our Sustainability Tour, take a look behind the scenes, prepare tortillas or fresh cheese with our chefs, we are on the right track for sure. True experiences and not staged ones become memories that last. And an honest chat about each other’s culture over a fresh lemonade made of herbs of our gardens is in various perspectives truly refreshing.

Hands-on experiences for our guests: in a couple of weeks this native plant will attract hummingbirds and butterflies through its sweet nectar.

Prosperity, the last P, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. All our produce is sourced locally. On the one hand we ensure that only the highest-quality products end up on our guest’s plates and on the other hand, we support the local economy as well. The so-called multiplier effect ensures that tourism expenditure benefits various stakeholders of our hotel operation. And therefore, we made the decision to only showcase local artwork made in Costa Rica in our Souvenir Corner.

What would happen, if tourists stop coming to Monteverde, where the main source of income is tourism? First of all, we would have to end contracts with our suppliers. Furthermore, we would have to give up our plan of teaching environmental education at local schools. Laying off all our employees who won’t generate an income for their family would definitely be the hardest part of all. And honestly, I don’t want to picture what would happen to the Cloud Forest. Maybe clear cut? Maybe plant soybeans? Cattle ranches?

After one night in rainwater, the fibres of our copy paper are soggy enough to be blended easily. We will furthermore add some herbs from our greenhouse and decorate it with flowers.

Back to my friends who are currently planning their next summer vacation: Is the solution really that easy? Simply not flying? Here is a possible response: Handprint instead of Footprint.

Whenever we travel, we have to ensure that we do so with the goal to explore a country and a culture in an authentic way. We have to discover true experiences and not artificially staged ones. If the budget is too small for a luxury eco-hotel, why don’t we look for a homestay family? Or a little farm where we could live a real hands-on experience? How about visiting the local farmer’s market instead of having an original Italian pizza in Latin America? How about planting a tree and therefore doing our part to protect the Cloud Forest?

Every single page is a unique piece of art. And a great memory of your stay at Senda Monteverde.

But the most important thing is to open ourselves up to truly embrace another culture. An open mindset towards different points of view is as important as being curious. What can we learn from the locals? Maybe some words in Spanish? Maybe the first steps for Salsa? Maybe to embrace the motto of Pura Vida and let good things come our way? And what can we give back? Our personal handprint! Arrive as strangers – leave as friends.

After my internship where I developed our own Sustainability Tour here in Senda, made paper out of recycled copy paper, helped in our recycling center, taught German lessons to my colleagues and traded in German Christmas cookies for a tortilla with Pico de Gallo, I’m sure, that the handprint I left behind is bigger than my CO² footprint.

Unlike my friends I don’t know yet where my next vacation will lead me to, but I’ll make sure I travel the Cayuga Way. I would love to hear what you think of my guest blog. Leave a comment here.

3 Responses

  1. What a beautiful blog and so true! I loved staying with you in Monteverde! I had such a great time there 🙂
    Lots of love from Germany

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