Today we travel to Rainforest Alliance headquarters in Costa Rica to introduce you to Ronald Sanabria, the organization’s head of sustainable tourism.
- Ronald Sanabria’s first encounter with sustainable tourism, and how his perception has changed over the years;
- Why he joined the Rainforest Alliance;
- How sustainable tourism has developed and changed;
- How social media has helped raise awareness of sustainable travel;
- The Rainforest Alliance’s approach to sustainable tourism;
- The current state of sustainability in tourism in Costa Rica and Latin America;
- What characterizes a sustainability leader.
Ronald, what was your view of sustainability and tourism when you first started your professional career?
Well, I fell in love with nature at an early age. I spent part of my childhood on a coffee farm not far from San Jose, Costa Rica, but I also traveled a lot with my family to see the many natural wonders that make our country such a special place. I noticed tourism was improving the livelihoods of local residents and prompting protection of beaches, volcanoes and forests.
And soon enough I realized that not only Costa Rica, but many countries around the world were blessed with incredible natural attractions, living cultures and a rich heritage.
I felt we had to find ways to use travel and tourism as a way to help protect those beautiful places we all want to visit and ensure benefits for host communities.
Now in mid 2015, how much of that view is still there, what has changed?
My view hasn’t changed much, but I’m glad to say that it’s now shared by many more people. A couple of decades ago, sustainable tourism was limited to small ecotourism companies operating in the middle of the rainforest—but now mainstream businesses, governments and the media see that it’s a useful tool to protect biodiversity and improve lives.
You can now see sustainability programs everywhere, from corporate social responsibility efforts, to strategic national plans that embrace sustainability principles, to UN declarations like the Rio+20 adding language on sustainable tourism.
Social media has also helped raise awareness of sustainable travel, since any bad or good news about tourism-related developments can travel quickly and far.
What motivated you to join the Rainforest Alliance?
I liked its practical approach to conservation and the fact that it was very active in Latin America, which is where I wanted to focus my efforts. At first I worked in sustainable agriculture, but in 2000 we launched our sustainable tourism program.