Cayuga Collection was recently announced as the winner in the Earth Changers category of the 2017 National Geographic World Legacy Awards hosted at ITB Berlin.
“This innovative hospitality management company merges the concepts of luxury and state-of-the art sustainability at eight small hotels and lodges in Central America. Their goal of not using a single drop of fresh water for garden irrigation is being tackled through treatment plants that re-use wastewater to irrigate green areas. Water is heated through solar panels, and plastic water bottles and straws have been replaced with treated, filtered water provided to guests in reusable glass bottles, and recyclable, reusable bamboo straws.” – commented National Geographic.
For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s National Geographic World Legacy Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Hans Pfister, Co-Founder and President, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges.
ANULA: Why did you enter this award?
HANS: There are a lot of really terrible awards out there for the hospitality business. They are marketing scams and pay per play. So we are very selective about where we apply. This award is probably the best one out there. The quality of the original questionnaire, the on site inspections, the quality of the finalists and of course the calibre of the judges. To do an award application right takes time and dedication. This one made it worthwhile.
ANULA: What positive impacts have your efforts to be a sustainable tourism business had on the communities and region where you operate?
HANS: Many. So many, I don’t even know where to start. The list would be too long. But I guess the most important thing for us is the focus on local and people with everything we do. Local employment is very important. But management jobs for locals is the rule. We are still seeing too many expats taking management positions of locals. At Cayuga, that does not happen. We have implemented very successful career path opportunities for our staff within the hotels and across Cayuga. Purchasing things locally, supporting local artisans and people that offer tours have all made sure that the tourism money stays in the communities as much as possible.
ANULA: How do you engage with the local community to ensure they have a positive opinion of your business working in the area they live?
HANS: We are very active in the local schools through an NGO that we fund for environmental education projects. Through them we teach, but we also equip the classrooms or get involved in complete infrastructure projects. When the community sees this kind of commitment, they have a positive opinion. And as mentioned above. We are the local community. Our staff lives there and is part of it. We have certain programs and events to further push this like the Lapa Rios Lapathaon, a 10K race that raises funds for community projects (i.e. medical equipment for the local clinic, etc).
ANULA: How do you communicate to guests about your responsible tourism practices?
HANS: The most successful way is to invite them to our “back of the house” tour. We hide nothing. We show them everything. They go on a 2 hour tour of hotel and see the kitchen, laundry, staff areas, storage facilities, treatment plants, etc. We teach them what it means to be a sustainable hotel or lodge. They are usually blown away by this as they never have a chance to see the back of the house of a hotel, nor do they imagine the efforts that go into being sustainable. If they don’t have time for that, we also do evening presentations or they can read about our efforts in our guest book or online.
ANULA: How do you make sure your staff care about your efforts and support them?
HANS: We hire the right people. It is not about skills, but about attitude. If you are a caring and responsible person, buying into the Cayuga philosophy is easy. It comes naturally. If they don’t buy into the Cayuga Way of doing sustainability, they will probably not make it too long with us. We also do a lot of training. When the staff first starts as well as ongoing on the job or in seminars. We do a lot of cross training at the different Cayuga properties but also with lodges in other parts of the world.
ANULA: What’s the best lesson you have learned over the years of developing a successful sustainable tourism business?
HANS: It takes time. It takes passion. It takes a lot of patience. But is the most rewarding process in the world.
This article is part of the interview series with the National Geographic World Legacy Awards 2017 winners and finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in sustainable tourism communications and stakeholders’ engagem