I’m currently traveling from Mexico to Argentina collecting best sustainable practices of hotels, to whom I offer strategic marketing recommendations in exchange for room and board. During this Hopineo / Hospitality Tour, as I was passing through Costa Rica’s capital, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed by Rainforest Alliance, where I met Ronald Sanabria, vice president of the sustainable tourism sector.

Rainforest Alliance avec Ronald

What can Rainforest Alliance bring to your hotel ?

1. Full support as you set up your Sustainable Practices

Free Access :

Developing a complete line of tailored and relevant sustainable practices within your hotel requires real in-depth analysis. You can of course find some inspiration from the practices put together by Hopineo, but also from Rainforest Alliance publications and its « toolbox ». Here is a small selection just to spark your interest:

Rainforest Alliance BiodiversityConsulting Services :

Rainforest Alliance offers advice and support from consultants that are experts in the development and implementation of a sustainable management plan tailored to your hotel. This can make it possible for you, among other things, to reduce your operational costs to the max by streamlining the management of your resources.
The cost of training and technical assistance varies greatly as it is tailored made to the specific projects that the company needs. It can be a one day training workshop for the staff or multiple days of hands-on technical assistance for example. Separately, funds are also raised to provide training workshops for entire groups, particularly for SMEs. See and example here : article in spanish.

Certification Program :

If you opt for a Rainforest Alliance certification, you will benefit of online training workshops for all your personnel: before the end of this year, there will be 15 modules revisiting different themes in terms of respect of the environment (management of natural resources, biodiversity …), social responsibility (development of a community project, working conditions…), and economic management (quality of service, marketing, development of a business plan, local legislation …).
Note that consultants and auditors make up distinctly separate teams. All are independent tourism professionals who were given special training beforehand by Rainforest Alliance.

2. Strengthening your Positioning in the Marketplace

logo rainforest-alliance-verifiedCertification is a sort of « icing on the cake », proving that you are committed towards a more responsible tourism. Using the green frog mark and fully integrating it into your marketing strategy can effectively secure your positioning on the eco-tourism niche market.
According to a 2010 study conducted by the Tour Operator TUI during which 4,000 travelers were   interviewed, it would seem that Rainforest Alliance’s green frog seal is among the top three most recognized sustainability marks in Europe and the United States. More than half of those interviewed claimed to trust in it.
Rainforest Alliance has until now zeroed-in on its recognition factor with B2B tours operators by:

  • Forging alliances with some among them, in particular through the TOPS network: Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability (see the complete list of Tour Operator Members)
  • Representing certified hotels during major sector conventions (WTM, ITB, TravelMart Latin America, Expotour, CATAM).

Rainforest Alliance wishes to keep the momentum going by focusing more on end-travelers (i.e. B2C). The website sustainabletrip.org lists tourism businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean that are certified under a program recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and that wish to be feature in such website.
Alliances with operators and more direct consumer outreach might be revamped in the near future as a new Vice President of Market Transformation, Mr. Dominique Gangneux, took up his post in early 2014 at the London Office with a mission to modernize and revitalize market connectivity of the various products and services carrying the Rainforest Alliance family of seals (agriculture and forest products and tourism services).

How much does it cost to be certified by Rainforest Alliance ?

The Rainforest Alliance certification program is finalizing a name transition from «verification» to «certification» to better reflect the independent, third-party audit that this process entails. For the moment, the mark still says « verification»; however, the procedure already in place indeed represents a certification audit.
Up until 2012, all certification audits were performed free of charge for participating companies thanks to the financial support Rainforest Alliance secured from funders and development agencies. However, the cost of certification audits in tourism presently ranges between $1,700 and $5,000 per year, depending on the number of rooms ($1,700 for establishments of less than 30 rooms). It covers the cost for the procedure from beginning to end (groundwork, visit by one or two auditors over two or three days depending on the size the enterprise, producing the audit report). The cost also includes the right to use the Rainforest Alliance mark in media communications, for your staff to access online training modules, for your hotel’s profile to appear on sustainabletrip.org, as well as a contribution to marketing efforts made towards tour operators. However, the hotel has to add extra costs relating to the auditors’ transportation, room and board during their visit. sustainabletrip.org
Rainforest Alliance is quite aware of the fact that the cost might appear prohibitive for smaller businesses. Rainforest Alliance underlines the fact that this contribution is important so that the organization does not remain donation-dependent for this certification part, and becomes truly sustainable by guarantying also a sustainable economic model. And there is some good news for small businesses also! Rainforest Alliance has arranged for the provision of funding assistance through certain institutions. The amount of assistance and the eligibility criteria depend on the country involved. The best thing is to contact Rainforest Alliance directly to obtain the exact information that is pertinent to your particular case. You can also consult the following document as an introduction to the subject (in English and in Spanish): « Practical Steps for Funding Certification of Tourism Businesses ».
To consult the list of standards, follow the following links: in English and in Spanish.  In order for tourism companies to achieve certification status, the establishment must meet all 100% of critical criteria, and at least 70% of the overall standard.

How to integrate the Rainforest Alliance certification mark into your marketing strategy once you are certified?

GSCT logo squareIf you intend to go through a certification procedure, you might then consider applying to Rainforest Alliance, or else we suggest you consult the list of organizations whose standards have been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) because they fulfill the global sustainability criteria; see list provided by the Council´s home page or via DestiNet (Knowledge Networking Portal for Sustainable & Responsible Tourism). You might also refer to the following guide (here in English and in Spanish ). EarthCheck, Green Globe and Travellife are also considered to be important international certification programs in tourism
Certification is far to be mandatory, nor is it an end in itself. However, it can undoubtedly provide precious support when setting up your environmental, social and economic policies. Certainly your investment can quickly become more efficient through the savings created by putting in place a more rational management of your resources. During my Hospitality Tour, I came across one very good example of a hotel who overcame the economic crisis partly thanks to the implementation of a very complete energy-saving plan recommended by a NGO, learn from their experience following this link: Arbol de Fuego Eco-Hotel in Salvador.
Obtaining a sustainability certification could provide good media support to firmly position yourself as « eco-friendly ». However, this in fact means you will need to do some thorough public relations work after obtaining such a seal through issuing a press release, using social media, updating your own blog, participating in travel fora, etc. Watch for new articles in my EBook: Hotel Marketing – The Hospitality Tour; I will soon write a new item to give you some tools as well as clear and concrete guidelines on this subject.

  • Why are there more Rainforest Alliance certified hotels in some countries than in others ?
  • Too strict certification criteria vs greenwashing, how to balance the two?
  • Heavy administrative red tape, costly processes, is the game really worth it ?
  • What is the future of eco-certification: are we going towards an international standard or a multitude of national or regional programs ?

We’ll intend to explore these critical points in following articles.
Follow Rainforest Alliance on Facebook and Twitter.
Also, further information on their website: Rainforest Alliance

Article translated by Hélène Masson from Quebec.
Hélène is currently looking for a long-term English Teaching Volunteering opportunity in Nicaragua.

Florie Thielin : The Hospitality Tour Latin AmericaAn article writen by Florie
Follow her journey through Latin America on Hopineo!

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