Costa Rica’s Minister of Tourism Says Sustainability Provides a ‘Better Quality of Life’ for Tourists and Residents

María Amalia Revelo spoke with Adweek at the Skift Global Forum

A hiker walks across a bridge in Costa Rica
"Kids that came 30 years ago … are coming back because they connect with the country," said the tourism minister.
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This story is part of a weeklong series on climate change and sustainability. It’s in partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global journalism initiative to cover climate change in the week leading up to the U.N. summit on climate change in New York on Sept. 23. Click here to learn more about the initiative and read all of Adweek’s coverage on how sustainability and marketing intersect.

Within the last decade, Costa Rica has become one of the gold standards for international tourism in terms of sustainability and the environment. The country runs almost entirely on renewable energy and its president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, has set a goal to achieve zero net emissions by 2050.

In 2018, the country welcomed over 3 million visitors, and, in the first six months of 2019, it saw a 4% increase in arrivals.

Adweek spoke with Costa Rica’s minister of tourism, María Amalia Revelo Raventós, at the Skift Global Forum in New York, about what sustainability means to Costa Ricans, what it took to get there and their new campaign “Only the Essentials.”

Adweek: What does sustainability mean to Costa Rica?
María Amalia Revelo Raventós: Sustainability means to be able to take care of our nature, our people and really be able to build a better world for all of us as well as the tourists who are visiting.

When we talk about sustainability, we talk about avoiding or diminishing the effects of climate change; we talk about decarbonization, having a better quality of life for the communities.

How long did it take for Costa Rica to be where it is today?
We have a long history of being sustainable, even if that word wasn’t really used then. When Costa Rica decided to abolish the army in 1948, that money was spent on health and education. It created a better quality of life.

We are really protecting our diverse nature, and at the same time continuing with those efforts. We depend on clean energy. Between 90%-95% of Costa Rica’s energy is produced by hydroelectric, solar or geothermic means. Our energy production is almost all clean energy.

Now we have a new challenge in transportation. Our president [Carlos Alvarado Quesada] has adopted a plan to decarbonize by 2050.

When you meet with other countries and their tourism ministers, what do they ask?
Why are you so successful? They say they have the same opportunities, but they don’t have the same results. God gave us a very beautiful country with very friendly, educated people.

What have we done apart from that?

Work with the private sector. We have a common vision, created about 25-30 years ago, and it wasn’t easy. Then the model [for tourism] was very enclaved to the beaches, like Cancun or the Dominican Republic. There was a group of private entrepreneurs that thought that was the way we should develop.

There was another group, at the time I was very young, that thought the way to develop was based on medium and small hotels all around the country that would bring the tourist dollar, not only to one place but also to hotels owned by Costa Ricans or foreigners who live in the country. That way the tourist’s dollar stays in the country. It creates a better quality of life.

Public and private businesses have to sit down together until there’s white smoke.

I’m not going to tell you it is perfect, but, in general terms, we have been consistent in what kind of tourism we want and where we are going to promote Costa Rica. We want to be sure that tourism is creating a better quality of life.

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