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Eduardo Villafranca

The host of sustainable tourism

He pilots the most renowned sustainable tourism business in the country whose model was exported this year to the company’s second hotel.

He, Eduardo Villafranca Sargent, is not an academician or a politician; he is a businessman who speaks of promoting equity and dealing with climate change.

The Businessman of the Year award, granted by EF, was placed in his hands just as he is about to take his activities to another level with a business that will be dedicated to orienting businessmen towards authentic social responsibility in their companies.

Eduardo Villafranca Sargent has demonstrated the way a good host should act, far from the behavior of hoteliers and project owners of tourism areas under questioning this year, using a business model that reaches out, foments progress and nourishes itself from the community, in order to succeed.

Because of the success proven after fifteen years in the Hotel Punta Islita and the launch of the Hotel El Silencio this year, Eduardo Villafranca was named EF Businessman of the Year for 2008.

From laborer to businessman

When asked about his greatest satisfaction as a businessman, Eduardo Villafranca left his story behind and told another one.

Mairon Viales is a Guanacaste native and resident of Punta Islita who started out as a worker and now has his own business of 54 employees.

This was the example given by don Eduardo.

When Hotel Punta Islita began operations in 1994, it decided to support people who could offer the services and products they needed for business.

Mairon Viales, as a hotel employee, went from being a laborer, to a foreman, and then to chief of the remodeling department.

After identifying his potential, they offered him the opportunity to manage his own business. He was given the rules he needed to follow in order to be contracted and today, aside from taking part in their project, he also works in four other constructions.

“Generating microbusinesses has given me the greatest satisfaction because it is a process in which people are educated integrally and in a short period of time,” considers Villafranca.

In his words, that is the meaning of socially responsibility, but it also cuts costs and improves service within the business.

“They are short term investments that are paid off in the middle term(. . .). When our business began, we needed to deal with refrigeration, water pump and air conditioner problems. Bring the help from San José or train people? It seems the answer was obvious.”

-Why don’t other businessmen follow this strategy?, we ask him.

“Is it mental laziness, a lack of knowledge, or a short term mentality? I think it’s the third option. I think there is also a tendency to underestimate people. The surprise is that those who develop as microbusinessmen learn very quickly.”

The CSI of Punta Islita

Other sources of satisfaction came on their own.

All the businessmen of the area who offer Villafranca services joined and created the Islita Solidary Committee (CSI because of its abbreviation in Spanish) which they humorously call the CSI of Punta Islita. This was their own initiative, he says, although he takes part as a guest.

“This Committee is an expression of civic maturity.” His satisfaction arises because the Hotel, in one way or another, brought together a group with ambitious plans to sustainably develop the community.

Beyond the mountains and sea

El Silencio is Grupo Islita’s second hotel. It has meant a $6 million investment and began operations this year.

In between two national parks in Bajos del Toro, Alajuela, it has 16 houses, a spa, and mountain hikes to three waterfalls.

Of this property’s 210 acres, 200 are preserved as forests to take advantage of the area’s biodiversity for scientific research and a resource for the sale of oxygen. According to Villafranca, the social responsibility program was designed before they began construction.

Thus, personnel and supplier contracting policies were determined, and since before the buildings were erected, they began working with stakeholders: the community, employees, suppliers and clients. “In El Silencio we realized we could take advantage of practically the entire experience developed in Punta Islita,” he mentions.

Currently, his wife, Karin Zürcher is the head of El Silencio.

Six months ago, together with Arturo Arrea, he founded the Responsible Business Alliance to dedicate more time to advising businesses on how to create social responsibility projects.

His opinion is that poverty, climate chance and the shortage of natural resources are all urgent matters which can’t simply be patched over.

“There is enough wealth in the world for everyone to live comfortably. Businesses should ally themselves with governments. But all of them must take part. Now that is what I want to dedicate more time to.”

Eduaro Villafranca

Age: 63

Position: CEO of Grupo Islita made up by Hotel Punta Islita in the Nicoya Peninsula and El Silencio in Bajos del Toro, Alajuela.

Curriculum: Business administrator. Worked in real estate and in the development of duty free zones with Grupo Zeta and Saret. Since 1994 he allied with Harry Zürcher in the Islita project.

Businesses: Six months ago, he founded Responsible Business Alliance in order to dedicate more time to advising businesses on social responsibility.

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