Laura Varela Fallas

Women who made Ecotourism a reality in Costa Rica

The notion of Ecotourism entails “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education” (The International Ecotourism Society, 2015). Ecotourism involves visiting natural areas with a view to learn; research or unfold environmentally friendly strategies. It is tourism based on experiencing nature and through its protection and enhancement to enable the economic and social development of local communities. Not all countries in the world have been able to successfully launch ecotourism. The list is short, and it only includes Costa Rica, the Maldives Islands; Cambodia; Palau and Kenya. Costa Rica by far is the world leader in ecotourism. This distinguished place has been the product of an early political maturity affecting its leadership after experiencing a nefarious civil war. To be sure, from March to April 1948, 2000 combatants died in the worst burst of violence ever experienced by the tiny Central American nation. From then on, the Costa Rican elites decided to give up violence forever including violence to mother nature.

Costa Rica then resorted to two concepts. The first was sustainable development. The second social inclusion. Sustainable development led to the substitution of polluting sources of energy to renewable sources. Inclusion led to the ascent of the finest women leadership in Latin America.

The ascent of women to leadership began about 30 years at the very micro level. Through the UNDP the country started a program for specialty coffee and pineapple growing for export. In both cases the leading producers were women including some from indigenous background.  Ivania Garcia and Noilyn Ramirez represent a new generation of women entrepreneurs in agriculture. Ramirez runs an ecotourism venture anchored in community development of specialty meals and guided tours for high-end hospitality facilities.

The FlorBlanca luxury resort nested in Santa Teresa is one of the greatest success stories in high-end ecotourism . This boutique hotel not only offers magical guided tours to guests where they learn to appreciate the flora and fauna of tropical rain forests but also, they endear themselves with naturally produced cosmetics manufactured by local communities. FlorBlanca’s success has been crafted by women who designed its interiors and unfolded a human resource development plan that supports economic ingenuity of local women. One such leader involved in in the human resource development pillar of the project is Laura Varela Fallas considered to be a rising star in the business arena who leads a multi sectoral group of companies. Varela-Fallas has continued to build on the achievement through investments in Santa Teresa. She also aims at leveraging  her experience at FlorBlanca through the deployment of two companies of the group she leads Verat and Cubica to strengthen real estate development plans in the region. Ivania Garcia started a very successful apiary to furnish upscale resorts. The project is now venturing into cosmetics production. And as the US increases demand for organic products these Costa Rican women have fantastic opportunities to cater to this demand and to venture into the US market.