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Rainforest Alliance Develops Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism

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NEW YORK—How can eco-savvy travelers trek through the myriad of websites listing vacation options in Latin America and the Caribbean to make choices they know will be environmentally and socially responsible?

A free online tool developed by the Rainforest Alliance can help. The Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism offers users a database of sustainable tourism businesses—including hotels, inns, lodges and more—that conserve biodiversity and help local communities. This lets responsible travelers choose destinations that are not only beautiful but also beneficial to the areas they visit.

The Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism is the only website with a searchable database of exclusively sustainable tourism alternatives. Listings are in both English and Spanish, allowing small- and medium-sized businesses that may not have websites in English or resources to advertise internationally a way to connect with environmentally conscious travelers who want to support sustainable practices.

“We are filling a void in the tourism industry in Latin America,” says Ronald Sanabria, director of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Tourism program. “The Eco-Index lets both English- and Spanish-speaking travelers learn about sustainable vacation options and helps promote responsible businesses. The database has been growing quickly and hopefully will expand to include every country in the region.”

The database was launched earlier this year with 15 businesses and has grown to include more than 100 listings in 12 countries, mainly in Central America. To be included, an establishment must either be certified by an ecotourism certification program or recommended by a reputable conservation organization that verifies its use of sustainable practices. These practices include, for example, more efficient water and energy use, wildlife conservation and waste management.

Website users can tailor their searches using criteria including destination, type of accommodation, features and activities. For example, a search for hotels or resorts in Costa Rica that are both family-friendly and offer scuba diving or snorkeling yields three results. The entries include information about the establishment and the area, available activities, transportation options, rates, contact information and a description of how the business is making a difference through sustainable practices.

The Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism is an adjunct of the Rainforest Alliance’s Eco-Index, a database of nearly 900 conservation projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Rainforest Alliance’s tourism partners in Guatemala, Belize and Ecuador have recommended businesses to include in the database.

The Rainforest Alliance helped create the Sustainable Tourism Network of the Americas, which includes organizations from 23 countries in Latin America. The Rainforest Alliance works with scores of tourism organizations in the region, helping business owners and tour operators use more sustainable practices to protect the environment and benefit communities.

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