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          The Long Run Newsletter - December 2014

          Dear Friends,

          Welcome to the Long Run! Being the 6th GER® recognised member, it’s a privilege to write the Introduction to the 6th Newsletter. The Long Run has grown in numbers and our interdependencyhelps us improve our mission. With the conceptual 4Cs structure underpinning us, these newsletters exemplify collaboration within the organization. People dedicated to improving our sustainable businesses, we assist local communities while modelling best practices for the tourism industry worldwide.

          It was fantastic to meet many of you in Segera in 2013. (Amazing! Thank you, Jochen.) We shared stories and dreams. However, if you weren’t in Africa you may not know about Lapa Rios, a Costa Rican rainforest ecolodge. Here’s a little history, and our challenge: In 1990, John Lewis and I bought more than 1,000 acres (390H) of mostly primary rainforest on the Osa Peninsula, a global biodiversity gem. Equipped with few skills but with 1960’s Peace Corps confidence, we dreamed about conserving the pristine land, working only with the wilderness community. No one had much experience, yet our unfair advantage was naiveté and determination to make a difference for people and place. Together we built the 16-bungalow ecolodge, began learning hospitality skills and nature interpretation. Success came through being authentic.

          “In the end, we will only conserve what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum, 1968, Senegal.

          But by 1999 we asked ourselves, What is our succession plan? If we’re no longer here, how can Lapa Rios protect its durable asset and still provide business continuity? (Have you answered those 2 questions, about planning beyond your founder?)

          So we hosted a three-day conference, “The Ecolodge Owner’s Dilemma: What is the Exit Strategy?” What we learned was that responsibility to the future meant: 1. Protect the rainforest, and 2. Find management willing to work with owners to maximize sustainability.

          To ease ownership transfer (1) we began work in the early 2000s with CEDARENA, the national land trust lawyers and The Nature Conservancy, to gather baseline data for a conservation easement in perpetuity. In 2013 we signed that contract, eliminated future development. The 900-acre Reserve title passed to the lodging business, assigning rites for educational/scientific experiences exclusively to the community and guests. And (2), as there were no Costa Rican managers interested in ecotourism, a conference participant began to develop management. By 2003 Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality Management was formed, a team wholly aligned with Lapa Rios’ fundamental principles. This group improved operations, skills training, marketing, etc. Guest satisfaction increased.

          In 2010, together with 30 Costa Rican stakeholders and guided by Hitesh Mehta, we designed a 30-year Sustainable Master Plan. This plan provides ideas to maintain a sustainable design yet expand the revenue stream. Now, the Reserve is conserved, the lodging operations are ‘turnkey,’ the re-built facility is complete with a re-imagined interior design (Thanks, Randy and Carlos!). Lapa Rios is For Sale.

          Owners who founded conservation/community tourism are aging toward retirement. Who will continue these projects? Effective succession for any tourism business proclaiming protection to natural resources and community first requires permanency to that asset and management other than owner-operated. But apart from trained, willing heirs or a management buyout, despite improved consciousness drifting to lower impact, few sustainable businesses have moved into the next generation. Most nature-community based lodges are family owned, values driven, small in size and revenue yet large on guest experience. Founders trend toward long-term perspectives, on everything. Traditional business leaders focus on short-term gains. This disparate difference may be onerous to the Long Run and its mission…without intention planning.

          As Long Run members, let’s discuss succession. We’ve accepted the 4Cs as certainty, so it’s these very principles that now require our ‘non-traditional business’ leadership prove their merit beyondany founder’s ideals.

          On behalf of the Lapa Rios community, may you and yours have a most Happy Holidays,

          Karen Lewis, 

          Owner, Lapa Rios – Costa Rica

          Click on the link to read The Long Run Newsletter December 2014  

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