Interviewed by Pablo Hernández and Yessenia Soto, Rainforest Alliance
“We want to demonstrate that you don’t have to be a nature lodge to be sustainable — what you need is to be aware and respectful of the environment and your staff.”
There is a small hotel in the heart of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, where sustainable practices are taking hold thanks to the owners’ creativity and determination. Located just half a block from one of Managua’s main roads in an area where most of the city’s tourism businesses are located, Hotel Casa Naranja is one of the first hotels in the Nicaraguan capital to adopt best management practices with the help of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Tourism Program. The Rainforest Alliance trains hotel owners thanks to the support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB).
Casa Naranja, Spanish for “House of Oranges,” is the former home of Federico Bosche, its current manager, who is continuing his family’s dedication to environmentally friendly practices. Under his leadership he has maintained, improved, and consolidated those best practices for sustainable tourism.
Question: How did you decide to implement best management practices at Casa Naranja?
Bosche: Before we turned it into a hotel, it was my home for more than 15 years and my parents always taught my brother and me to respect and take care of natural resources, the gardens, and the staff. During my college years, I had the opportunity to participate in various seminars about best tourism practices, and I realized that we were already doing many of the practices the experts recommended. So when I learned about the Rainforest Alliance, it only made sense that we should participate in its sustainable tourism program.
Q: How has working with the Rainforest Alliance helped you?
Bosche: The program includes two evaluations, and we are currently working on the second one. It has been a learning experience that has helped us to improve and expand the environmental practices that we had already been doing, to some degree. We also learned about the importance of keeping records of our environmental initiatives, which, as we now know, are very important.
Q: How does Casa Naranja demonstrate sustainability on a daily basis?
Bosche: Through a series of small efforts that can be as simple as messages to educate and raise the awareness of employees and guests about helping us to protect and conserve resources, for example by recycling. For example, we have an environmental manager and the workers separate all of the garbage; we even give the used cooking oil to people to use for fuel.
Perhaps the most important thing is that Casa Naranja sets an example because we are inventing ways to reduce our water and energy consumption. For example, we completely rewired the hotel to make it more energy efficient — we use energy saving light bulbs, and installed skylights to avoid unnecessary electricity use. Another interesting initiative is that we have installed insulation (metal sheeting) beneath the roof to keep that space cool, thus reducing the need for air-conditioning.
We have also developed a microclimate system that keeps guests cool in an environmentally friendly manner, without the use of fans or air-conditioning. It consists of a series of tubes with tiny holes running across the hotel’s roof. A light stream of water flows out of those tubes that reduces the roof temperature by about five degrees during the hottest time of day, as well as keeping the gardens and passageways cool and the green areas moist, as if they were constantly bathed by a mountain mist.
Q: How do you account for such creativity in saving resources?
Bosche: We are always on the lookout for new ideas and thinking about how we can implement them. We adopted the heat insulation after a vacation on the beach. I stayed at a friend’s house that, at first glance, looked like we would roast inside because it was sealed with metal. When I stepped into it, I was surprised to find that it was cooler than outside. So I used that idea at the hotel.
The Rainforest Alliance training workshops have also been a crucial element. They are not only train the staff in the importance and the purpose of sustainability, but they also help us to perfect our techniques and service and give us more confidence in the initiatives we undertake.
Q: Do you think it is possible for hotels to become sustainable without making large financial investments?
Bosche: Of course! The most expensive thing that we’ve done so far was to renovate the hotel’s electrical wiring; but after seeing the savings in our electric bills, it became clear that this was an excellent investment. The thing you need most in order to work in an environmentally sustainable way is the willingness to change.
Q: Has implementing best management practices helped your business financially?
Bosche: During the year and a half that we have been working with the Rainforest Alliance program, we have managed to cut our water and power bills by 15 percent. Our environmental policy has also been a marketing tool, something that we had never taken advantage of before. Through our participation in the Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism, we have tripled the number of visits to our Web site. And we can’t forget customer satisfaction – guests appreciate our environmental practices and say that they get “good vibes” from our staff.
Q: Social responsibility is a pillar of sustainability. What efforts are you making in that area?
Bosche: Since ours is a small hotel, we treat all employees like family. We provide a complete benefits package and give bonuses when occupation is above 85 percent as an extra incentive. We also provide scholarships for their children, and I’m proud to say that we have helped a few of them to build their homes.
Q: Are you active in your community?
Bosche: Absolutely. The hotel uses 100 percent Nicaraguan products, we promote tourism to protected areas, we make donations for tree planting to offset our carbon footprint, we make donations to various institutions such as the Red Cross, and my mother, Chylo Bosche, is a painter who gives art classes to children in different communities.
We also have projects to expand this work into other areas. One of them is to turn a farm in the Río San Juan area in southern Nicaragua into a botanical garden, and to plant native trees there to provide habitat for local, endangered green macaws. Another plan we are working on is to create a sea turtle hatchery on a beach.
Q: These are very ambitious plans for a small hotel. What are your future plans for Casa Naranja?
Bosche: We want to complete the Rainforest Alliance’s best management practices program so that we can market ourselves as the first hotel to practice sustainable tourism in the Nicaraguan capital. In the medium-term, we hope to become certified by a sustainable tourism certification program.
Casa Naranja is also planning to expand to 20 rooms and to add a gym, spa, a meeting room, and other services. And we also hope to launch new conservation projects such as installing solar panels and to further improve the quality of life of our staff.
We want to demonstrate that you don’t have to be a nature lodge to be sustainable — what you need is to be aware and respectful of the environment and your staff.