Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica: How to have the best vacation of your life, and leave the place better than you found it, Part 1
This post marks a slight departure from our usual, tongue-in-cheek approach to our topics. See, we don’t like to take things too seriously, and we figure you come here to Costa Rica to enjoy the same vibe, so it all fits.
However, in this article, we want to discuss a concept that is very close our hearts, as well as our livelihood; sustainability in tourism. We’ve also noticed that more and more of our visitors have the same concerns. And since the idea only works through like-minded thinking, it seems like a worthy topic for our blog.
So, with that in mind, let’s crack this open, and see what the fuss is about.
What’s in a name?
As a concept, sustainable tourism is closely related to other terms and ideas, such as ecotourism, and also responsible tourism. The relationships between these terms reveals the history of how our attitudes toward tourism have changed.
Ecotourism is tourism that is centered on the ecological experience. Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? It is about experiencing another part of the world in its natural state, at least as much as possible. This contrasts a more traditional style of tourism; cut down the trees, make room for a parking lot, maybe a Ferris wheel, a couple fast-food joints, a few local animals tied up in cages, balloons for the kids, overflowing garbage cans, and plastic bags blowing in the wind.
Kind of makes us nostalgic. (Disclaimer: no, it doesn’t. That was sarcasm.)
For the majority of us, ethics have changed in terms of how we relate the world, and what we think it owes us. “Take only photos; leave only footprints.” That sort of thing. We decided to give it a fancy name, because we like fancy names.
Although it’s only part of the sustainability ethic, ecotourism has done wonders for Costa Rica, as we shall discuss further. Driven by market demand (that’s you, my green-minded tourist friend) the nation has begun to eagerly embrace conservation in many forms. If you want to see a short film about the negative impacts of tourism on Costa Rica before these changes really started to take place, look here.
Once it occurred to us to appreciate the world and its critters more for who they are, it dawned on us that all of what we do as tourists may not automatically be good for the local communities that we visit, either. Developing nations and local communities are vulnerable to the negative impacts of mass tourism. Who knew?
Perhaps we should be more mindful of these impacts, we figured. Maybe we can even name it something, we suggested. Perhaps something that embraces the idea of being more… I dunno, responsible to the recipients of our tourist dollar?
How about, “responsible tourism”? Someone asked. And we all agreed
The Circle Completes
But we weren’t done yet! Heck, some people make an entire living out of fiddling with words to the point of ridiculousness, intent on finding just the right one, with the perfect meaning. (But enough about me.) And that’s how we ended up at “sustainable”.
See, it turns out that things in the world are actually interconnected through mutual influence and boundless interdependence. Incredible, we know! And, equally astounding, we figured out that our planet has limitations, and if we go past them, we’re going to do so much harm that it will no longer support us, nor any other species.
This is unsustainable! Someone exclaimed.
Wait… say that again…
And here we are. Over a few, short, decades, we figured out that overly indulgent tourism is harmful and destructive. On the other hand, with a few important tweaks, tourism has the potential to protect biodiversity, encourage social diversity, and foster healthy economic development.
It’s not easy to make the change, and there’s still more to learn. But it can be done. Tourism doesn’t have to be destructive. It doesn’t even have to be ‘neutral’. It can be better than that. It can promote healthy everything, so that generations from now, people can still be enjoying the same thing, with the same benefits, and everybody wins.
In other words, it can be self-sustaining, or sustainable, for short.
The Final Product
Ultimately, sustainable tourism considers the social, environmental, economic, and community impacts of tourism, both immediate and into the future. It aims to create economic activity that is enjoyable for the tourist, but also beneficial for the people, animals, and environment in which it takes place.
And it’s pretty serious stuff. The UN has a whole sustainable tourism department, right here.
Tourism is an economic activity. It is also a huge industry. It involves countless players or stakeholders; tourists, tourism operators of all shapes and size, regulatory bodies, governments, communities… in fact, kind of everyone, with few exceptions.
All About You…
And yet, perhaps ironically, there is a central component to the whole idea of sustainable tourism that focuses on you; the potential tourist. Seems funny that the whole thing started with kind of an “all about me” attitude, and that was the initial problem.
How is that part of the solution? Well, maybe it means something different. And that’s what we aim to discuss in part 2.
Tourism is, after all, a service industry, and it all begins with consumer choices. There are many important players who all need to do their part to make it work, but it definitely begins with you.
Check part 2, and we’ll be happy to explain what we mean, and how can you have the time of your life here in Costa Rica, and go home knowing you left the place a little better than you found it!