“Sustainable tourism has very little,” says humanist hotelier Michil Costa. But there is a virtuous path and it requires radical choices, such as limiting the presence of visitors

Is it possible to do sustainable tourism?

“When we talk about sustainable tourism, I have the impression that the term is used as a marketing strategy, because sustainable tourism has very little, from an environmental and social point of view,” he says Michil Costa, humanist hotelier and ecologist born in Corvara, in Alta Badia, a Ladin valley in the Dolomites, a UNESCO world heritage site .

On the front line in the defence of the territory, author of the book FuTurismo and founder of the non-profit organization Costa Family Foundation, Michil Costa has clear ideas on how to do sustainable tourism: “Radical political and social actions are needed, such as limiting the presence of visitors .

Trentino-Alto Adige has set the maximum number of new beds at 225 thousand, it is the right approach, I say this as an innkeeper who makes a living from tourism.

We must put the brakes on ourselves if we want to preserve our thousand-year-old Ladin identity and our mountains, limit tourist access by increasing the periods of stay and governing tourist flows, with the obligation to book seven years in advance, to avoid overtourism" .

Read also: Bressanone paves the way for sustainable Alpine tourism

What are we talking about when we talk about sustainable tourism, from an environmental and social point of view?

Michil Costa: “Sustainable tourism has very little. The local farmer does not profit from the mass tourists who flock to Alta Badia, attracted exclusively by the advertised places and resorts with 5,000 meter spas, not interested in contact with the natives and mutual contamination. However, it must be said that if tourists had not arrived in Alta Badia, where people once lived from agriculture, perhaps today there would be a depopulation of the mountains".

What is going well in tourism?

Michil Costa:“Trentino-Alto Adige has set the limit of new beds for tourists at 225 thousand, it is a far-sighted idea, a right approach, and I say so I live off tourism. We must put the brakes on growth if we want to preserve our mountains and our culture.

Furthermore, in 2022 Alta Badia obtained the GSTC, the certification from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council of the United Nations which promotes sustainability and social responsibility in tourism.

In our structures we take stock of the Common Good Economy, in which we calculate not only profit, but also the well-being of collaborators, staff motivation, transparency, social solidarity and the dignity of the person by involving stakeholders, guest satisfaction, respect for human beings and the ecosystem.

A further step forward, at community level, is the Alta Badia Climate Plan, an ongoing project to calculate the overall impact of the territory in terms of CO2, to undertake a targeted strategy for reduction and compensation and to be able to return more to the environment than what is emitted; our guests would be willing to pay for the rooms based on the practices implemented to reduce pollution, rather than for the spa.

It is possible to do business based on transparency, fairness, human dignity and taking care of the environment without repercussions on financial performance, but we need politics that subsidizes certain actions, with tax breaks, because it is difficult for man to change without incentives ”.

You and your family manage the Hotel La Perla, the Berghotel Ladinia and, in Val D'Orcia, the Posta hotel Marcucci. What are your sustainable practices?

Michil Costa: “The guest who comes from far away, whom I call guest and not customer because he is the one who internalizes the lived experience, who seeks encounters with others, who take a part of me with them, make us more aware of the beauty of our territories, push us to be more attentive to the environment, to beauty, to architecture and to our origins.

The guest educates us and motivates us to make radical choices: in our hotels - which we call homes - we do not offer meat on Fridays, because the production of a kilo of meat involves the consumption of 5 thousand liters of water.

Almost all of our products come from local farmers, our executive chef Simone knows all the mountain farmers from whom we buy meat, honey, spices. With the Incö project, which in Ladin means today, our guests book a table and eat only what arrives that day from the farmer, it is a way to educate to seasonalityand the culture of non-food waste.

There are 240 of us, I try to ensure that our collaborators love their work, it is important that young people return to the mountains, that they appreciate a healthy model of hospitality based on welcome.

Our collaborators live in our homes together with the guest, use the swimming pool, the gym, eat in the stube and live in a structure managed by us, because you have to live in a hospitable model to be able to tell about it, otherwise it's all a fake. My dream? The self-determination of salaries”.

What is wrong with tourism today?

Michil Costa: “Tourism has very powerful environmental, economic and social impacts, especially in a small community like ours in Val Badia. Due to luxury tourism, property prices have skyrocketed. I, who am a hotelier and earn good money, don't have a house in Alta Badia, but I live half an hour away from where I was born and raised. The millionaire tourists who come to us with private jets and big cars, if on the one hand they enrich the area, on the other they create a cultural shock and put our young people in difficulty, who make sacrifices to stay in the mountains".

What is your position on Cortina hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2026?

Michil Costa: “Many Piedmontese mayors regretted having hosted the Turin Winter Olympic Games in 2006, there was enormous land consumption and most of the completed works are in disuse, from the bobsled track to the jumping trampoline.

The Cortina bobsleigh track, for which more than five hundred - some say two thousand - larches, centuries-old trees of great value, will be cut down, will have no future, few people practice this sport, Here young natives don't even go skiing anymore because it's too expensive.

Cortina will not be saved, just as it was not saved in 1956, when the people of Ampezzo were against the Olympics and, due to the real estate boom triggered by the Games, they had to move where the houses were cheaper. The big events attract foreign investors who have only one goal: to make money."

How is sustainable tourism planned?

Michil Costa: “We need radical political and social choices in the area.
- First: limit tourist access to our areas by increasing the periods of stay and governing tourist flows, redistributing them in less crowded and publicized valleys, thus avoiding overtourism.
- Second: increase tourist taxes, revenues that must not flow into marketing strategies but must be redistributed throughout the territory and local society, from farmers to artisans.
- Third: not to advertise the area further, because if we are good tourists arrive on their own, but to invest in training because we need trained collaborators, who love the healthy hospitality model, learn Ladin and our culture, and know how to transfer it and tell it".

In the book FuTurismo, written in 2022, he makes an appeal against the tourist monoculture and calls for a new sense of tourism, a culture of hospitality based on the values of the common good, sustainability and humanity .

“By tourist monoculture we mean everyone living off tourism, paradoxically the tourist would not want to find himself immersed among tourists. Therefore we must encourage all the other identifying activities of our territory, give dignity to the farmer, the breeder and the artisan, choose local products and ensure that the stars are assigned to hotels not according to the size of the rooms but based, for example, on local purchases. To be successful in tourism you don't have to think touristically."

You founded the non-profit organization Costa Family Foundation, active since 2007 in Africa, Afghanistan, India and Nepal.

Michil Costa: “We have invested one million three hundred thousand euros in various projects, we have built the first Tibetan university in India, in Bangalore, where the Tibetans can learn Tibetan and continue their culture.

In Afghanistan, despite the difficulties and the presence of the Taliban, we grow saffron: this year we harvested three kilos of it, part of it had be used in tea produced with Pompadour and in the kitchen, with recipes that cost more and whose proceeds finance the foundation.

In Uganda we carry out agroforestry and accompany local inhabitants towards sustainable agriculture models. These days we are defining a program to support the Ladin community and to protect the environment and our heritage, for example by purchasing land and larch woods to preserve them from speculative and harmful initiatives, such as a bobsleigh track".