Reducing tourism's threats to biodiversity: effects of a voluntary sustainability standard and training program on 106 Latin American hotels, lodges and guesthouses

Document Type


Publication Date



The tourism industry can negatively affect wildlife, plants and natural ecosystems through habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation of natural resources and visitor impacts to sensitive ecosystems. One approach to mitigate such threats is the application of voluntary sustainability standards, supported by training of tourism enterprises and verified by external audits. The Rainforest Alliance standard defines 78 criteria (requirements) for sustainable environmental, social and business practices, and has been adopted by over 600 tourism enterprises – including hotels, lodges and tour boats – in 12 countries. We examined the performance of 106 hotels in six Latin American countries against 29 of the sustainable tourism criteria most directly related to biodiversity conservation. Independent audits were used to assess hotel performance at baseline followed by a repeat assessment after training, about two years later. Mean conformance with the 29 biodiversity criteria increased significantly during this interval, from 44% to 58%. Improvements were greatest for businesses in the lowest third of performance at baseline (laggards) and smallest for hotels in the highest third (leaders). The results indicate that a voluntary sustainability standard and training program can serve both to recognize existing good actors and to drive incremental improvement in enterprises that were previously less sustainable.



Find in your library

Off-Campus WSU Users