Learn about the strategies of TOPS, the group of tour operators practicing sustainable tourism
The word “sustainability”, is a trending term that is also a characteristic of development that assures present needs without compromising those of the future. In tourism, it is closely related to the management and conservation of natural and cultural heritage, sharing financial benefits with the communities, and ensuring authentic experiences to tourists.
Seven companies in Nicaragua have grouped together and formed TOPS (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability) to promote and spread practices and behaviors compatible with development and the environment, while increasing profitability. The six companies include Careli Tours Nicaragua, Nicaragua’s Best Guides, Oro Travel Nicaragua, SOLENTINAME TOURS, Discovery Nicaragua, Vapues Tour Nicaragua, and Detour Travels.
TOPS was founded in July 2012, and is promoted by Rainforest Alliance, an NGO that works for the protection of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the world’s forests, in addition to verifying these practices and certifying them.
“We have worked for five years organizing, and educating, in sustainability. We united, and introduced ourselves to the authorities, and trade associations. We began to educate our staff and suppliers through seminars, since one of our main objectives is to create awarenessm and adopt sustainable practices that can be applied throughout the chain of direct and indirect colleagues. This chain includes guides, transportation, hotels etc.,” says Immanuel Zerger, general manager of SOLENTINAME TOURS and president of TOPS.
He added that “we have provided training, organized guides and transportation. A good practice for a tour guide is to be authorized by INTUR. We have created a code of ethics for guides that includes a uniform, license and professionalism. We also help tourists identify qualified guides.”
According to the president of TOPS, the tour operators in the association have managed to improve their operations and their use of resources. They have helped raise awareness so that tourist guides are duly registered with INTUR. They have hired consultants to document their best practices and create cross-cutting sustainability policies in their companies. They cooperate with INTUR to provide collective awareness, since one of the goals is to present Nicaragua as a sustainable destination in the world.
Zerger says that in Europe, more companies are being certified, and are demanding to work with certified companies, in their destinations.
“There are changes in the world. For example, the Royal Caribbean cruise line announced that it will only offer tours with companies certified by the Rainforest Alliance in their destinations. Millennials also prefer to consume products from sustainable companies. These are today’s travelers who care about the planet, social justice, global warming, and are willing to pay a little more for a product that is sustainably managed, does not use chemicals, uses green energy, makes good use of the water, manages its waste properly, and pays their coworkers well. It is important to show and promote sustainable efforts. It is the future of Nicaragua and the world,” says Zerger.
He recommends that “sustainability is a topic that must be addressed between the national, public, and private sectors, in order to know where we want to go. ”
DISCOVER WHAT THEY DO
Careli Tours Nicaragua: This company has taken the first concrete steps towards sustainability Since 2007. They began by signing a public commitment with Rainforest Alliance and INTUR, which laid the basis for the certifications that the company currently has.
During the last 10 years they have worked on their flagship “Eco – School” project, which runs in partnership with the Hotel Plaza Colón, and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development (FUNDENIC – SOS). It consists of taking environmental education classes (conservation of the environment and recycling) to two public schools in the city of Granada. These classes are taught to a total of 1,700 children with a social community impact of 5,000.
They also support improvements to the infrastructure of the schools with their own funds, and donations made by their clients.
Careli Tours Nicaragua also actively participates in campaigns to clean lagoons and San Juan del Sur beach, as well as the protecting the turtles in La Flor Reserve.
From a social point of view, they have prioritized visits with tourists to projects managed by communities throughout Nicaragua that support women entrepreneurs and that form part of the Vital Voices program.
This year, Careli Tours Nicaragua, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary, and will be committed to the care and conservation of ecosystems and wildlife, as well as cultural preservation and development of communities in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua’s Best Guides: They specialize in the quality of service with which they serve each one of their clients. “With dedication and great disposition, we maintain a very close commercial relationship with our buyers. This allows us to achieve excellent negotiations, thus fulfilling the development of our country with sustainable tourism”.
This company works hand in hand with their personnel and is constantly training them. They carry out internal activities such as energy and water conservation, in addition to external activities. These include cleaning the city, and supporting organizations dedicated to the care and protection of children and adolescents, which the intent of fostering and increasing their personal values for a better quality of life.
Oro Travel: Founded in 1995, more than 50,000 passengers have enjoyed unique experiences, thanks to the passionate work of 20 professionals. “With fluent management in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, our world-class tour guides provide unforgettable moments for travelers in Nicaragua and Central America.”
Their contribution to improving the wellbeing of the ecosystems, and the communities in which they work, has been validated by Rainforest Alliance and TourCert Check.
This company is constantly offering sustainability, recycling, and responsible waste management training workshops to its collaborators. They support social projects, such as the Comprehensive Heart Development Center, Project Tio Antonio, Surgeons of Hope, and Fight Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children.
Solentiname Tours Discover Nicaragua – founded in 1999, this family business is the only one in the country with a (TINTKO) certification for being an excellent travel organization and for their outstanding tour guides.
“Since our inception, we have developed the sustainable tourism concept to the Solentiname Archipelago. It has been successful, and continues to this day benefiting more than 1,500 people, directly and indirectly, in the Archipelago of Lake Nicaragua. Since 2007, when we were invited by INTUR together with the Rainforest Alliance, we worked with them, and today we have a Rainforest Alliance (RA) Certification “, says its owner manager.
He also states that “We extended our sustainable concept at the national level with the creation of the” Nicaraguan Tourist Map – Sustainable Travel ” in which we identify the protected areas of Nicaragua, integrate the eleven private Natural Reserves, and eighteen hotels and lodges verified by the Rainforest Alliance, and especially the twenty nine “Life Points”. Each “Life Point” offers participation in tourism development to cooperatives, artisans, artists and peasant families, including poor and single mothers, which are often socially excluded.
Zerger assures that Solentiname Tours creates employment and contributes to expand the cultural offer of Nicaragua. The “Excelencias” Editorial Group of Spain, recognized and awarded the “Nicaraguan Tourist Map – Sustainable Travel”. It states that, it is “A step in the continuous effort to save our planet. It is a positive commitment followed by concrete actions within the Year of Sustainable Tourism Development in Central America 2012 framework”.
Since 2016 they have also created a reforestation program with farmers in protected areas, and managed to plant more than one thousand trees.
In this company, we also work on training guides and developing itineraries with our concept. Our tour guides and the entire staff of SOLENTINAME TOURS – Discover Nicaragua, has been registered as a “Special Biodiversity Guardian,” in 2017. This means that each person is personally responsible for caring and protecting an “endangered species” from the great biodiversity that Nicaragua has.
Vapues Tour Nicaragua: This is one of the leading Nicaraguan tour operators which stands out for its sustainable actions. Since 2002 ,it has provided quality service to its clients, as well as to its colleagues, and has always included projects for environmental conservation and social inclusion. These actions have enabled them to obtain a certificate of sustainability from the Rainforest Alliance.
During 2017, Vapues Tours Nicaragua developed diverse activities to promote environmental and cultural conservation, such as launching a children’s book called “Nicaragua more Green”, which focuses on the care of the environment through written stories for children between 4th and 6th grade. In addition, they have offered workshops aimed at their suppliers of sustainable practices, highlighting the achievements they can obtain through these actions.
They also practice recycling in their offices located in Managua and Granada, and support the “Reusing my plastic” Project by delivering materials to crafts workshops teaching children, amongst others.
TOPS GOALSPromote sustainability, so that more Nicaraguan service providers in the tourist industry will change their business practices and so that Nicaragua can be recognized internationally as a sustainable destination.
Continue with the education and certification of enterprises, in order to achieve 100 percent compliance.
Promote sustainability and its good practices, together with the government, and tourism organizations, so that Nicaragua is recognized for its efforts, and contribute to the priorities of this public-private agenda as a path to the future.