Conservation Champions: Luz Caceres and Roberto Fernandez, Costa Rica
Lapa Rios and Pacuare owners and avid conservationists Luz Caceres and Roberto Fernandez recently purchased two new lodges in Costa Rica, Monteverde Lodge & Gardens and Tortuga Lodge. Both come with sturdy sustainability credentials and biodiverse ecosystems, but as long-time Long Run members, Luz and Roberto know there’s always room for progress. Here we catch up with Luz to find out their motivation for buying the properties and what they’ve got in store.
- You recently acquired Monteverde Lodge & Gardens and Tortuga Lodge & Gardens meaning you now co-own four ecotourism properties in Costa Rica. Tell us what excites you most about these two properties?
Tortuga Lodge and Monteverde Lodge were founded back in the mid 80’s when our nation (Costa Rica) visualised conservation and ecotourism as a strategic opportunity to enhance the wellbeing of its people and biodiversity. It was a moment when the travel industry was taking the first steps towards ecotourism and both lodges were pioneer ecolodges in Costa Rica that inspired others to follow best practices. They are set in incredible and important diverse wilderness areas—Monteverde Cloud Forests and Tortuguero National Park—and have contributed to the preservation of these unique environments.
- How does acquiring these two properties help your conservation mission in Costa Rica?
Now, with Pacuare Lodge, Lapa Rios, Monteverde Lodge & Gardens, and Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, and the acquisition of 40 hectares of land in the Arenal region, we are contributing to the conservation of approximately 800 hectares of natural land. We’re incredibly proud that this is now 100% Costa Rican owned and operated. These unique habitats provide employment to more than 200 collaborators from local communities and support key conservation, cultural and community programs. In 2020, we formalised the Conservation Support Program to provide economical resources that contribute to the 4Cs (The Long Run’s model of Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce) initiatives and programs defined for all of our four lodges.
- Costa Rica has incredibly high sustainable standards, but why is driving this conservation mission an on-going and still vital task?
From our experience of 30 years designing and operating a sustainable Lodge (Pacuare Lodge), we are convinced that sustainable travel has been the key element to drive progress and prosperity to Costa Rica’s remote communities. The communities within our circle of influence have benefitted via jobs, environmental education, resources to acquire land dedicated to conservation, the promotion of talented people, and empowerment and inspiration of a new generation of entrepreneurs based on a sustainable business model. As our planet evolves, there is continued pressure on our ecosystems and the population increases every year, so it is our mission to continue the on-going task that we envisioned 30 years ago and has brought so many positive results and stories.
- You recently commented that this acquisition represented the next phase in Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry; a transition from foreign-owned to Costa Rica-owned lodges. Why is this important?
Roberto Fernandez, Founder and Managing Director of Pacuare Lodge was born and grew up in the town of Turrialba close to Pacuare Lodge. His desire and motivation when initiating the company was to convert Pacuare Lodge into a vehicle that would contribute to the progress of his hometown and preserve its incredible biodiversity. Conservation is in our DNA and we deeply believe in the benefits of sustainability. Through our own story, we intend to share this vision and continue the tradition of environmental protection while enhancing the guest experience and amplifying the ways tourism positively impacts and drives conservation. It’s important this movement comes from within Costa Rica to inspire others to do the same.
- What plans do you have to increase the positive impact the collection of lodges has on people and the environment?
The new ownership and operations at Monteverde Lodge and Tortuga Lodge resumed mid-January 2021. We found that both sister lodges were not certified or affiliated to any certification program such as the CST (Certification for Sustainable Travel), a global pioneer certification created by the Costa Rica Tourist Board, or any international program. Pacuare Lodge is certified by CST with the highest accreditation, Elite, and is a Long Run Fellow Member, and Lapa Rios is certified GER by The Long Run. Therefore, our plans for this year will focus on refurbishing the infrastructure and investing in new equipment and technology to make the operation more efficient and implement sustainability best practices.
- There’s been a lot of talk recently of regenerative travel. What does regenerative travel mean to you?
It is hard to describe for us the meaning of regenerative travel so I will describe it with an example: Pacuare Lodge and Lapa Rios support the Jaguar Preservation Program in conjunction with the National University of Costa Rica which collects data about this amazing feline. Two years ago, we found that it was critical to revaluate the program as we were collecting data of a species that would disappear in the future, so we decided to concentrate our resources on environmental education to the indigenous and local communities. In this way, our lodges contribute to the conservation of the ecosystems that are essential to the protection of the jaguar and other species. Our guests are part of the regenerative process when deciding to visit one of our lodges and witness the restoration of the ecosystem.
We as humans have a key role in the regenerative process and travel, via the 4Cs, can create the right conditions for balance, interaction, respect and wellbeing of others.
- Finally, what impact has Covid-19 had on conservation and communities in Costa Rica, and what are your hopes for 2021?
Covid has brought challenges for the protected areas such as an increase in poaching due to the lack of jobs in the communities near the National Parks and Private Nature Reserves. There have been less resources to invest in conservation and community which has forced several programs to cut or close programs. A lack of resources resulted in less rangers to patrol the National Parks including Corcovado National Park. Hotels and the travel industry have lost human talent specially in remote areas as people fear for their jobs and move to other activities.
However, there have also been some positives. We have had time to appreciate the astonishing regeneration and lushness of the flora and fauna. Working as a team with our employees to navigate the crisis has been rewarding and bonding. It’s always good to have time to rethink and get creative with resources and approaches. We were also, of course, grateful for the opportunity to acquire Monteverde and Tortuga Lodge.