ECOCLUB interviews a veteran of ecotourism in Costa Rica, Mr Vinzenz A.
Schmack, owner and president of Laguna
del Lagarto Lodge, a small 20 room Eco-lodge at the edge of 500 hectares of
tropical rain-forest in the northern Zone of Costa Rica.
ECOCLUB: How did you end up as an
Vinzenz A. Smack: I am a professional banker and bought in 1981 out of a foreclosure 110
hectares of rain forest. Originally I wanted to cut it down and convert the
land in agricultural use. At that time there were no restrictions to cut down a
rain forest and the word ecology was not yet known in Costa Rica. Fortunately
the lack of infrastructure and the high expenses involved refrained me from
doing so. During the search to convert my newly acquired land into some
profitable use, a friend suggested me to go into tourism. So I built in 1992, -
after 2 years of experimenting with a small 4 room unit -the 20 room Hotel
Laguna del Lagarto Lodge.
E: What is the main quality
distinguishing an ecolodge from all other tourist accommodation establishments.
VS: An Eco lodge should be in a remote area or at least away from the mass
tourist centers, should be relatively small (around 50 rooms maximum), should
offer comfortable but relative simple rooms and facilities and its main
attraction should be nature and not state of the art artificial ingredients,
like tennis, golf, Jacuzzi TV in the rooms etc. Quite often you find very sophisticated
“Eco Hotels” which charge $150 and more per room. I question
whether such luxury Hotels should still be put in the category of “Eco Hotels”.
If the philosophy is to go back to nature, my opinion is that an eco tourist
should be prepared to give up, at least for some nights, all the luxury and
accept comfortable but simple facilities for the enjoyment of nature.
E: What is your view of
ecolodge certification, particularly in relation to the Costa Rican experience?
VS: In general, a good and serious certification is very valuable in order
to distinguish the Eco Lodges from other Hotels. The Certification for
Sustainable Tourism www.sustainable-tourism.co.cr
E: What were the main
reasons that Costa Rica developed as an ecotourism destination?
VS: Costa Rica, as a small country has the highest area of the total
territory under absolute protection, 17 % are National Parks and the total area
under forests represents about 40% of its territory. Due to the fact that it is
the smallest link between North and South America, the greatest variety and
density of birds, insects, plants and trees are found here. Costa Rica has 5%
of all the bio diversity of the world. Due to its good infrastructure, all the
beautiful nature resorts are easily accessible.
E: What are the main
problems facing Costa Rican ecolodge owners in your view?
VS: In Costa Rica tourism is polarized to a couple of well advertised but
overcrowded areas, like Monteverde, _Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, just to
mention a few. The eco tourism is largely monopolized by large travel agencies,
ecological institutions and research stations who own their own lodges and of
course bring the tourists primarily to them. In the official tourist
publications only the large luxury Hotels and resorts can afford to advertise.
The small independent eco-lodges receive little or no support at all from the
government or the tourist bureau.
E: Who is your typical
guest at La Laguna del Lagarto, if there is one?
VS: We have no typical guests. All our guests are people who love nature and
want to experience it through a close and direct contact. For this they are
willing to bear the inconveniences of a partially bad road and occasional the
bite of a mosquito.
E: What is the funniest
incident that has happened at La Laguna del Lagarto?
VS: There are many funny stories to tell, I just want to mention one: Once a
guest asked when is the best time to see a Toucan. I told him , if he goes at
7:00 o´clock. in the garden area where the Pepper grows he will see one. At
breakfast he came back furious telling me what kind of a German am I. He was
punctually at seven, pointing at his watch, in the area I told him and he did
not see a Toucan. I excused myself and told him that the Toucans are
Costarricans and they do not take it so exact with the time.
E: Is there anything else
you would like to say?
VS: We have labeled all the trees (70) in the garden area with the local,
scientific and family name. On the trails we have numbered the trees and in a
booklet the names of the trees are listed with their local scientific and
family name and their main characteristics. We have also established a “Tree
Garden” where we are planting all the trees of the area ,about 400. A guest
can buy a tree for $15.- He receives a certificate and will be registered in
the tree planters book. The Hotel guarantees the permanent maintenance of the
La Laguna del Lagarto, is an Ecolodge Member of ECOCLUB.
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the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here
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