There is a lot of discussion on the forums sometimes about what affiliations you should look for and unfortunately the message and sometimes even the truth of things is often quite a bit muddled.

This article is to help keep the message clear. Originaly written by a former hotel owner in Costa Rica and former member of the ICT, CST, & CANATUR in Costa Rica as well as many non profits like the Rain Forest Alliance, Protecting Them (children), and several others that are not pertinent to this particular article.

The following is a list of Boards, Chambers, Associations, and programs found in Costa Rica, beyond the borders, and what they are about in nature. Hotels, transfer services, travel agencies, and tour operators may have some or all of these affiliations and credentials.

To clarify what is here in Costa Rica and what you might find outside of Costa Rica this list was compiled with first hand kowledge, experience, and a little help from Google to fill in the gaps.

ICT –  Costa Rica Tourism Board is run by the Costa Rican government. The primary purpose of the ICT is the promotion of Costa Rica as a top tourist destination and gives companies high exposure. Being listed with them you benefit from their extensive marketing muscle. Mission - Leaders in policy development of promoting sustainable tourism and recognized around the world for promoting a Tourism Development Model which seeks to find a balance between economic, natural, human, and social capital. In 1997, Costa Rica created a free and meticulous Sustainable Tourism Certification Program (CST), the only one of its kind recognized by the World Tourism Organization as a program that has been able to change the way tourism is done by finding balance between development without affecting the environment and benefits that the local communities receive, as well as distinguish which companies are sustainable tourism businesses.

CST Certification - The CST's fundamental purpose is to make sustainability a practical and necessary reality within the context of the country's competitiveness in tourism, while looking to improve the way that natural and social resources are used, encourage the active participation of local communities and provide a new source of competitiveness within the business sector. The system works on a 5 leaf tier 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Certification is very difficult to get and the waiting list to be certified is substantial as the demand has overtaken the resources available.

NOTE – The above are government run. Costa Rica takes its tourism very seriously as it makes up a good bit of the countries GDP.

CANATUR –is the official Costa Rica Chamber of Tourism - There are several different smaller chambers of commerce, business, & tourism in Costa Rica. The largest is Canatur. - Mission: Promote the development and sustainable growth of the tourism sector in a dynamic, proactive, and representative manner, through the consolidation of its financial, organizational, and human development. It will promote its acknowledgment in the national and regional public and private sector and will implement policies and projects that contribute to generate favorable conditions for the defense of the interests of the Associates. Vision - Be the leading organization of the Costa Rican tourism industry, acknowledged as the most influential and representative business chamber in the country, consolidated, stable, safe, and respectable, with credibility, and ethical values. It will help obtain all necessary conditions, with the objective of achieving a competitive tourism activity and sustainable growth, both nationally and regionally.

OTHER CHAMBERS IN COSTA RICA - Listing of Chambers approved by the ICT  and in good standing - – These are all of the different chambers recognized by the ICT that a travel company may or may not have in Costa Rica

OTHER ASSOCIATIONS IN COSTA RICA - Listing of associations approved by the ICT and in good standing - Similar to the above and recognized by the ICT

MOST COMMON COSTA RICAN AFFILIATIONS – The most common affiliations you will see tourism companies having are ICT and or CANATUR. Being with either or both you can feel comfortable that you are with a legal company. Do not let people tell you differently, it is not true.

FACT – There is no criminal element associated with any of the above boards, chambers, or associations that I am aware of or have ever heard about. If at any time criminal activity is detected they would lose membership immediately. It would be very counter productive for any of the above entities to ignore something like this or allow criminals in their midst as they are all designed to help promote Costa Rica. They are designed to create communities to help filter out those that are not above boards and are criminal in nature.They all have this in common.

FACT – Companies involved in any of the above mentioned entities DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE GOOD AT THEIR JOBS.  This is a very important thing to consider. You can be a legal company and a member of several or all of the above and still be lousy at the actual service you may provide. Just because you pay your taxes and have no criminal record does not mean you are any good at the actual execution of whatever it is you do.

FACT – There is no law in Costa Rica about having to be a member of any of the above to operate a tourism company of any kind in Costa Rica.Do not let anyone tell you differently, it is untrue.

IMPORTANT FACT – Not being a part of any of the above is a bit of a red flag for a company located inside Costa Rica but is normal outside of Costa Rica. To be associated with nobody is very odd when you look at it from both a business or consumer standpoint. BE EXTRA-EXTRA CAUTIOUS in these cases. Not saying that in every case bad things will happen, but in this day and age it is odd.

CONCLUSIONS AND THE MESSAGE – There are several factors involved when you look at a tourism service of any nature. Affiliations are great and having had the pleasure of being a part of and working with many conclude they are worth getting involved with. However it is important to remember that not 1 is the end all be all of credentials by any stretch of the imagination.

Travelers or anyone looking at any company in any line of work need to do their homework before they fork over any money. Read reviews on Trip Advisor or other review sites such as the Better Business Bureau, ask questions in forums pertaining to the goods or services, contact the companies and see how they interact with you and how you feel about those interactions, ask for past client references for the companies if in doubt, in a nutshell DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Affiliations are a small part of what to look for in a company but you SHOULD LOOK. 

AFFILIATIONS OUTSIDE OF COSTA RICA – Here are some other affiliations you might find inside or most typically outside Costa Rica with travel companies or services. It is important to note that most companies located outside of Costa Rica will have none of the above affiliations that have been mentioned so far. They may or may not have affiliations as follows.

IATA – Originally founded in 1919, IATA brings together approximately 280 airlines, including the world’s largest. Flights by these airlines comprise more than 95 percent of all international scheduled air traffic.

ASTA – short for the American Society of Travel Agents, is the world’s largest association of travel professionals. Their 20,000-plus members include travel agents and the companies whose products they sell such as tours, cruises, hotels, car rentals, etc. They are the leading advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public.

PATH – The Professional Association of Travel Hosts is a professional society of host agencies that has established strictly enforced operating standards and provides assurance of the reputability of its host agency members.

ARC – The Airlines Reporting Corporation - is an airline-owned company offering travel products and services, ticket distribution and settlement through a variety of channels in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. ARC is the information hub of the $85 billion travel industry.

IATAN – IATAN’s mission is to promote professionalism, administer meaningful and impartial business standards, and to provide cost-effective products, services and educational programs that benefit the travel industry.

CLIA – The Official trade organization of the cruise industry, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) also works in partnership with nearly 17,000 affiliated travel agencies throughout North America to ensure the highest caliber of cruise sales expertise and service for cruise vacationers.

ARTA – Designed to be the one-stop resource for professional travel retailers, ARTA has agent tools, columns and articles on selling travel and the travel business.

NACTA – NACTA, Inc. The National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents, is the travel industry’s leading national trade association representing independent contractors, outside sales agents, cruise and tour oriented agents, group oriented travel professionals and traditional ARC appointed travel agencies that provide services and support to such professionals.

OSSN – OSSN’s mission is to provide their members with every possible tool to help their business succeed in today’s new travel environment. OSSN provides members with a variety educational programs and networking communication platforms that allow members a professional forum to help insure the success of your travel business.

NOTE - Keep in mind there are quite a bit more, but for brevity just listed what are considered the best known.