Eco-Tourism Trend in Costa Rica


Eco-tourism, a branch of tourism that involves visits to natural ecosystem has been on the rise in the recent times. Many benefits tend to accrue from eco-tourism including enhancing the development host countries and endeavoring the process of environmental conservation. This is despite the negative effects on the culture of the hosting countries. Costa Rica is one of the developing countries that have experienced both the positive and negative impacts of eco-tourism. Its strategic location and rich biodiversity have been attracting tourists from all over the world. Indeed, the performance of eco-tourism in this country forms the bulk of discussion in this paper.


Ecotourism emphasizes on responsible traveling around the natural resources like national parks, game reserves, and coastal lines. The industry therefore advocates for environmental conservation and the improvement of the local people’s welfare. In addition, the eco-tourism enhances development sustainability when well managed. The sector can therefore not be categorized as a passing fashion trend as consistent income continues to stream in if the country conserves and improves the sector. The Costa Rican nation is one of the developing countries which have greatly benefited from the tourism industry.

However the industry has negative impacts on the domestic culture and academic level. This is mainly because tourism brings forth some western culture which slowly replaces the traditional customs and beliefs of the Costa Rican communities. As a result of the increased ecotourism in Costa Rica, youths have opted to drop out of school and engage in some small economic activities. This therefore put the countries future at stake since there is a very strong relationship between country’s literacy level and development (World travel & tourism council and the international hotel & restaurant association, 1999, p.1). This paper seeks to analyze whether eco-tourism ensures a sustainable future or it’s just a passing trend, zeroing in on Costa Rica.

Economic benefits of the tourism and travel industry

The strategic location of the Costa Rican republic has enabled the country to benefit from eco-tourism. The country is also ranked among the top in America and the third in the world in the environmental performance. It is therefore advisable for the government to use the industry as a strategic tool which will enhance growth and development in the nation. There are many benefits which the Costa Rican country would access if it fully utilizes its tourism potential. The incredible biodiversity and scenic beaches, impressive volcanoes are among the great potentials which the country possesses (Black & Crabtree, 2007, p.157).

The country also enjoys lush rain forest which provides home for the wild creatures and exotic wildlife which greatly attracts both the domestic and foreign tourist around the globe (Hussen, 2000, p.10). The incredible biodiversity which includes mountains and volcanoes, beaches and rainforests and diverse flora and fauna greatly attracts foreigners into the region. The country’s strategic location and accessibility by the northern US visitors offers the country a comparative advantage (Lück, 2008, p.120). Approximately 50% of the Costa Rican tourist comes from the US, not withstanding that there are some from Canada and Mexico who also visit the country.

Economic growth versus the environment conservation

The multinational corporations tend to regularly finance the large-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica which have negative impacts on the domestic cultural values. The large scale ecotourism also end up exploiting the local human capital as they seek to maximize their profits. The profits received from the ecoturism industry are then expatriated to their parent countries leaving minimal proportion to the local communities. Lack of proper foreign regulations in Costa Rica has also made it difficult for the small and medium scale firms as the multinational corporation’s offers stiff competition which eventually pushes them out of the market. Ecotourism can also greatly hamper the environmental conditions within a country as it advocates for infrastructural growth such as roads and urban centers which supports it (Hussen, 2000, p. 167). Rainforests and wildlife lands may be cleared for the expansion purposes thus deteriorating the climatic condition of the nation as a whole. Hotel expansions and road constructions along the wildlife reserve areas also narrow down the ecological advancement of the region. Proper planning and restrictions from the government bodies such be reinforced to prevent such extreme environmental damages. Considering the fact that this is on the rise in the Costa Rican ecotourism advancement the mode is therefore a passive one which is doomed not sustainable (Conord & Conord, 2008, p.33).

Theories that support tourism and travel industry

Tourism and travel theory closely explains how the global economy can be broadened and diversified using tourism industry. According to the theory tourism enhances the interrelations between countries throughout the world. Tourism has nevertheless grown in the resent times as people appreciates the need of spending a proportion of their income for leisure and to explore the beauties of the world. Initially only the wealthy and financially stable class of people used to travel for leisure and exploration (Franklin & Crang, 2000, p.13). The motivational theory therefore support why people have opted to travel much around the globe. The theory also explains the rising needs of exploration and discoveries among the modern people (Theories of tourism, n.d. p. 6).

During the ancient days tourist mainly explored mountains and lakes, but this has changed to incorporate wider scope and features. The historical discoveries, artifacts and other attractive geographical scenes have boosted the current tourism and travel. The theory therefore acknowledges the cultural and economic role of tourism in a country. Tourist has greatly contributed to the cultural growth in the many developing countries. Costa Rica is one of the countries which still uphold its cultural heritage until to date (Weaver, 2001, p.177). The cultural values together with the beautiful scenes that the country possesses are among the features which make the country one of the highly demanded tourist destination. It consistent conservation of both the wildlife and the rainforests has greatly empowered the nation in its expansion process (Ceballos-Lascuráin, H & International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1996, p 45).

Theories that explains ecotourism as a passing trend

There is an underdevelopment theory of tourism which mostly emphasize on how the multinational corporations end up formulating an imperial system of economic domination. It is therefore very necessary to determine who the major beneficiaries are in the overall industry. The current situations in Costa Rica show that the major beneficiaries of the large scale ecotourism practiced by the country are the US. This is because the US multinational corporations have actually dominated the country’s market and have eventually gained from it at the expense of the Costa Rican economy.

The local people also lost their land illegally to the government as it expanded its protected areas. But the economic greed within the ministry of environment (MINAE) has not performed its key role in environment conservations. The infrastructural growth has therefore rendered to increased forest destructions as they seek to expand roads and urban centers around the wildlife reserves (Stronza & Durham, 2008, p. 167). Although the infrastructure acts as a source of income to the government it risks the future ecotourism growth. The current generations will therefore gain at the expense of the future generation (Higham, 2007, p.90).

The environmental theory on tourism also explains how the expansion of the sector severely affects the environment. The constructions of housing and sanitation facilities use the non-renewable energy sources which are scarce in the region (Honey, 2002, p.135). For instance, the improper sanitary infrastructure in Costa Rican republic negatively ruined its coastal marine waters thus endangering the inhibitors. The environmental degradations have been due to the increased population in the urban centers which accesses the original system which was meant for little population (Foley & Cooke, 2007, p.55). The unplanned sewerage systems in the region therefore end up contaminating waters in the rivers and endangering wildlife, livestock and human species as well. Although the ecotourism industry boosts the economic activities of the region, the sustainability of the same is questionable if something is not urgently. More people will end up loosing their jobs as the demanded cultural practices are eventually eroded by the foreign western cultures (Buckley, 2009, p.144).

The administrative structures of international tourism, with emphasis on foreign direct investment

The foreign direct investment is the long term economic commitment of one country into another country’s economic affairs. The investing country in this case participates in management, joint venture and transfer of technology and knowledge in the later country. Mostly these foreign investors mainly identify the potential investment region by having toured the area. Tourism therefore assists the foreign investors explore the economically viable regions where they later invest into. Tourism thus provides convenient and excellent environment between nations which consequently triggers the investment actions. The industry also improves the economic relationships between different nations and governments. The industry therefore strengthens the diplomatic relations which further encourages foreign investments. A country which relates well in the tourist sector similarly does the same in other sectors of the economy. The Costa Rican economy has witnessed some massive foreign investments in the hotel industry.

Criticism of administrative structures on foreign direct investments

The foreigners are also believed to utilize such diplomatic relationships to extend their imperialism to the respective communities. As a result they advance their financial assistance accompanied with many conditions on how the government should operate in order to further benefit from them (Fennell, 2003, p.85). The overall effect of the international influence is to adopt some foreign policies which favor the country from which the majority of tourists come from. In this case the Costa Rican foreign policies favor the US as its huge foreign income comes from them. Investors from the US thus can easily invest in the hotel and other infrastructural projects limiting the domestic investors (Shaw & Dennison, 2005p.143).

The political instability of the Costa Rican republic somehow taints the future ecotourism sustainability in the region. The many guerilla wars that Costa Rica has had in the past and lack of strong standing army put the country’s economic growth on a balance. The future sustainability of the industry is therefore not assured as tourism greatly depends on the country’s security.

The main social, cultural, environmental impacts associated with tourism development

Positive impacts

Tourism encourages cultural heritage among the local communities in the respective regions. It improves the sense of pride in the communities as it appreciates their cultural values and believes. The local communities also benefits from such cultural values as they use them to earn some economic gains from tourism (Gawler Visitor Information Centre, 2005, p.1). The industry also encourages some cultural exchange which facilitates social interactions between communities and visitors. It therefore enhances social cohesion among the indigenous communities (Zeppel, 2006, p.68). Through tourism, the local communities are able to learn more about their traditional norms and values and are also exposed to the perspectives of new life and society which positively change them. Since the industry is an experience driven industry, both the locals and international counterparts get to learn more about each other within their social circles (Pandey, Chettri, Kunwar & Ghimire, 1995, p.20).

Negative impacts

Ecotourism also have a negative impact on the cultural practice and values. This is because western cultures end up been adopted replacing the indigenous cultures. The moral behaviors of the young generation are more affected as they loosen their hospitality character which is traditionally known among the communities in Costa Rica. The deterioration of social values among the Costa Rican communities is necessitated by the integration of the international tourists and the local communities. Prostitution, lesbianism, and gay sexual practices have also been introduced in the region ruining the lives of young generation. The number of school drop outs has also increased as the young people ventures in economic ventures (Garrod & Wilson, 2003, p.5).

The increasing importance of international tourism as an export sector in international trade

There are many factors that influence the level of tourism in a particular country. If the factors are not properly considered they negatively affect the industry. Such factors includes the political stability, internal security and the infrastructure within that a given state. The hospitality, attractive and secure scenes has made Costa Rica to effectively export its cultural artifacts and other attractive services to the rest of the world (Conord & Conord, 2006, p.32). This is because as the tourists stream into the country they at least ensure that they carry with them something to remind them of the trip. Items such as crafted images, locally designed dresses and also some locally manufactured materials are exported through this industry.

Conversely, the multinational corporations may also negatively impact on the Costa Rican economic activities through dumping. Dumping in this case will tend to significantly affect the locally manufactured products as they forces reduction in price despite the high cost of production involved in production. The dumping effect may further influence the growth and development of the indigenous firms.


Tourism and travel has to some extent benefited the developing countries but due to poor foreign regulations and control, the major gains have always been earned by the multinational corporations and other large international organizations. The respective governments should therefore be keen when expanding their ecotourism industry. Measures should be enforced to ensure that the local communities and the respective governments benefits from the sector and not foreign investors. Proper plan should also be established in order to guarantee future sustainability in the industry.


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