Nowadays in developing countries, ecotourism is used as an excellent tool for promoting sustainable development. It is very beneficial for local communities creating environmental, economic and social benefits. Ecotourism is carried out by many tourism planners and marketers nowadays. The important aspect involved in ecotourism is its proper planning and implementation. In the case of improper planning it converts all the economic gains into social and environmental disasters. Ecotourism has gained popularity developed into a worldwide phenomenon showing no signs of slowing down. Even though it is not a universal remedy for attaining sustainable development, its potential towards promoting sustainable development deserves considerable attention. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the impact of ecotourism in attaining sustainable development in Costa Rica.
The concept of ecotourism was well identified in 1960’s by Hetzer who contributed to this by identifying four principles of ecotourism. They are minimizing environmental impacts, respecting host cultures, maximizing benefits to local communities & maximizing tourist satisfaction. Ecotourism is an integration of social, environmental and economical benefits meeting both human and environmental needs. One of the major causes for the evolution of ecotourism is the dissatisfaction with mass tourism creating over development, pollution and foreign investment. According to International Ecotourism Society (2004) Ecotourism is a “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people”.
The term sustainable development received international recognition in 1980’s. In 1987, Bruntland commission defined sustainable development as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs”. It is a combination of social, economical and environmental development.
Ecotourism & Sustainable Development
It is nothing but sustainable tourism. In 1995 World Trade Organization stated in Agenda 21 that “Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future”. Sustainable tourism involves a number of principles in it. Sustainable development is not the only goal of ecotourism, but sustainable development is very important for achieving the goal of ecotourism.
About Costa Rica
Costa Rica which means “Rich Cost” is a country in South America bordered by Nicaragua in north, Panamma in south, Caribbean Sea in east and Pacific Ocean in west. The government is constitutionally democratic. It constitutionally abolished its army permanently in 1949 becoming military neutral. It was ranked first among the Americas for Environmental Performance Index in 2010.
Total area – 19,653 sq.m
Water percentage – 0.7
Population – 4,253,897
GDP (nominal) – $29.318 billion
It contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 25% of the country’s land area is covered by protected national parks and protected areas. About 24 national parks are found in Costa Rica. The Monteverde cloud forest reserve is a home for about 2000 plant species, over 400 birds, over 100 species of mammals and numerous orchids.
Growth of ecotourism in Costa Rica
Costa Rica earned reputation as a premier ecotourism destination in the world also considered as ecotourism’s post child. Some of the factors that influenced ecotourism in Costa Rica are pleasant climate, excellent national park, best public health care system, best public education, highest literacy rate in Latin America etc. It is also blessed with abundant natural resources such as beaches, mangroves, mountains, caves, waterfalls, volcanoes and tropical rainforests which is one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world containing 5% of entire planets biodiversity. In a short period Costa Rica has reached high level of maturity in ecotourism creating both beneficial effects and detrimental consequences on sustainable development. It is considered as a model in implementing ecotourism in many other areas.
Globalization plays an important role in global economic decision making. As globalization and unbridled economic competition continue to dominate the global agenda, the travel agents who came up with the idea of ecotourism were now looking for new markets and not the ways to save the world. Because of this issue, many protected regions of Costa Rica are increasingly integrated into the global economy. Park entry fees and other form of revenues increase the value of protected land rather than the revenue obtained from deforestation.
Ecotourism also earns foreign exchange to developing countries by bringing tourists from north ( from developed countries). A survey states that in early 1990’s Costa Rica was the leading overseas ecotourism destination for U.S travellers, but only 20% of its revenue went to the local community and the remaining was paid to the tour operators, tickets on foreign owned airlines, to import products that appeal foreign tourists. A certain percentage of profits can be recycled to the local community development through legislation so that revenue leakage is reduced.
In general, the employment opportunities of the people living near to ecotourism destinations is based on the tourists. In Costa Rica, people living near to Monteverde cloud forest reserve is an excellent example who have gained great economic values with this. Contrast to the previous point, Osa peninsula a ecotourism spot in Costa Rica has made its inhabitants even more poorer than before over attraction by ecotourists which created profit to outsiders.
Marketing in general is used to elaborate a buisness scale. In Costa Rica in regions where outsiders dominate, marketing is used es an efficient tool by the local community to elaborate their buisness. Fake marketing is also done in some regions which is of no environmental responsibility. Since ecotourism is a seasonal activity, it can fluctuate over time to time and the local community cannot entirely depend on this for their earnings which leads to economic discomfort. Outsiders took over many regions in Costa Rica which have become distorted and the prices have increased drastically so that many Costa Ricans have been priced out of land and home ownership.
Even though the local communities are not traditionally involved in ecotourism planning and implementation, it becomes essential for them to get involved in different phases of it for their own benefits. Also the local communities are very familiar with the local resources, it makes them essential to involve in decision making. Stakeholder participation and community involvement are very important in decision making process since they have the greatest stake in the outcome of any ecotourism project.
The culture of the local community plays an important role in ecotourism. For a sustainable ecotourism, cultural structures of the local community must be well understood so that the disintegration of the local communities can also be avoided. In Costa Rica, people in many rural areas did not support ecotourism instead they felt it as a threat to their cultural dynamics. Ecotourism brings many advantages to the local community if they integrate themselves with it otherwise it can lead to commofication resulting in erosion of culture and community cohesion.
Ecotourism provides some employment opportunities to the local community such as hotel servicing, crafting, government agency staff, tour operators etc. In Costa Rica local community people are trained in the areas of park maintanance, habitat restoration, management etc in order to incorporate them in protected area management. Govrnment should provide some subsidies and intensives to local poor people to own a buisness. Many innovative and resposible locally owned ecotourism projects fail due to insufficient investments and their competition with large foreign companies.
The goal of ecotourism is that the profits from ecotourism must be reinvested into the local community to meet their basic needs. Additional revenues are channeled into programmes which directly benefit the local people in their health and education. When people get focused to ecotourism getting support from their community, they will devote their time and energy to it, understanting that the success of ecotourism is directly linked to their individual capacity to achieve greater standards of life.
National parks in Costa Rica are the backbone of its ecotourism industry contributing much to the country’s tourism industry as a whole. In 1960’s Costa Rica’s first strictly protected area was established, after that four national parks were offically created in 1970’s to preserve its biodiversity. There are 30 and above national park’s and more than 230 protected areas in costa Rica. Cost Rica forms a variety of ecosystem with 850 bird species, 1260 tree species, 1200 orchid species, 270 mammal species, 361 species of reptiles and amphibians and more than 35,000 species of insects.
The creation of parks and protected areas protect natural species, but it resulted in deforestation. National parks form the crucial part of ecotourism in Costa Rica which was increasing since 1980’s and attained maturity at the end of 1990’s. Even ecotourism earnings have contuined to increase, the Costa Rican government is not properly funding to the parks and protected areas leading to dependancy on foreign donations much.
Other than national parks and protected areas, private reserves have emerged as another important way to protect Costa Rica’s natural resources and biodiversity. About 68 reserves were found in Costa Rica in which more than 40 involves in ecotourism in which La Selva, Rara Avis, Monteverde cloud forest reserve are some of those in it. Monteverde forest reserve recieves nearly 50,000 visitors per year which contains most important population of quetzal, an endangered bird species. Private reserves serve as an intimation to the government that ecotourism has good earning potential and it can be economically viable when sufficient resources are invested.
Ecotourism projects results in natural degradations when the natural areas are overcroweded with visitors. Solid waste generation, pollution, habitat destructions, forest degradations and trail erosion results in increase of local carrying capacities. The negative effects of ecoourism can be minimized by emphasising low- impact construction, controlling the number of visitors, taking care in interacting with local flora and fauna. A balance between development and conservation should be created in order to avoid the degradation of natural environment.
Education is often cited as on of the most crucial element for every individual as well as for a society. Environmental education contributes much for ecotourism. Knowledgable tour guides can provide a quality environmental education. Local guides have more advantage over foreign guides since they have more knowledge about local ecologic, natural history and local culture. Lack of experienced and knowledgable trail guides is one of the major problems with ecotourism in Costa Rica. Creating educated public understanding the importance of ecotourism in Costa Rica will help the countries benefit for long run.
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