Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica: How to have the best vacation of your life, and leave the place better than you found it, Part 2
In the first part of this article, we discussed the evolution of thought behind the concept of sustainable tourism. In total, sustainable tourism recognizes that, as an activity, tourism must happen in a way that builds up communities, protects natural assets, and promotes healthy development. It is ecotourism, ethical, responsible tourism, kind of all rolled into one. In total, it is a positive force for environmental protection, and for healthy development of communities.
Now comes the fun part. Let’s look at how sustainable practices have already made Costa Rica a healthier place, and how you can be a driving force behind sustainability, just by coming here for the best vacation of your life.
The Fun Part
Much of the tourism in Costa Rica focuses on enjoying the robust, exotic, and almost limitless natural environment. What you may not know is that, just by coming here for that purpose, you help to save and preserve that environment for the future.
It’s totally true. Have a look at this research that calls ecotourism in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula a “human shield” against destruction.
When tourists come here, hoping to see pristine jungle ecosystems, it provides economic opportunity for locals. Without those opportunities, they’d have to rely on resources in more traditional, and destructive ways, such as logging, mining, and hunting.
That is the economic power of tourism. If you want to preserve parts of this world for the sake of our children, the future, or just for the planets, you can vote for that with your tourist dollars, and the impacts are real.
In the Osa Peninsula, if ecotourism wasn’t available as an economic opportunity the natural resources would have been exploited in more destructive ways, because people need jobs and families need to live. However, because tourists wanted to come and spend good money on experiencing pristine natural environments, this incredible biodiverse region is being preserved.
The same thing has happened already in the region of the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, which has, in recent years, witnessed the return of the Scarlet Macaw.
Once kidnapped and sold as pets, these birds were absent for years, until conservation efforts, driven by ecotourism, inspired governments and locals to act together, and reintroduce them. The idea here is sometimes referred to as regenerative travel, which is tourism that actually helps to repair damages done in the past. How cool is that?
The scarlet macaws of the Cabo Blanco region think it’s very cool.
A lot of credit for the return of these birds goes to Wild Sun, as this was ultimately their initiative (and kudos for that). But don’t think that the desire of tourists played anything less than a major part. Conservation donations, and other forms of support inform local decision making. The result in this region has been to fill the skies with giant macaws once again, ready for tourists to take pictures of!
Of course, one of the major benefits of tourism from a community point of view is that it has the potential to create jobs. However, we realize that some types of business are going to promote the sustainability of a community, while others skim the cream off the top, if you will, and take it away. Jobs or not.
If, for example, we compare an international hotelier, who employs local people, however, imports its management team while exporting its profits to head office, with a handful of small, local, entrepreneurial boutique hotels, who also employ locals, but the profits stay in the community, and expertise is shared and developed locally, the degree of community sustainability is very different.
When profits stay in the host country, there is a stronger tax base for social welfare (which Costa Rica does very well), but there are also expanding opportunities for locals to learn from tourists how to provide better service. Further, smaller, locally run businesses look out for each other, and the community as a whole, because this is where these people raise their families too.
Entrepreneurship builds stronger community bonds, and lifts the “social capital” of the community, such that it can plan its future, rather than being at the whims of a big, foreign company as the main employer in town.
This idea has a fancy name, ‘Tourism Social Entrepreneurship’, which you can read about here. The gist of it, however, is that the more the local people are involved in the planning, the management, and the higher functions of tourism, the deeper the benefits go into the community, reaching social and personal levels, not just economic ones.
Costa Rica has done a good job of keeping its beautiful spaces available to locals to develop, and not just big hotels. At the same time, when you plan your trip, if you can, think about staying at places where the profits go to locals, or at least stay in the community. It makes a big difference.
Supply and Demand
In closing, we want to make it clear that the responsibility to create a sustainable way of life extends beyond tourism and includes all of us. Even sustainable tourism obliges tourism operators to be mindful about things like energy use, waste disposal, activities offered, and even materials used in construction.
However, there is one fact that can’t be ignored, and that is that, like all things economic, they are at some point, bound to the demands of the market they serve.
In other words, if you, as tourists, demand the right to drive dune buggies on the jeep, then the nesting turtle eggs are likely to die. If, on the other hand, you can’t wait to visit the turtle conservation program in Montezuma, and to go on one of their tours, the beaches are likely to stay safe in a pristine environment
In Costa Rica, tourism is a huge part of the economy. As a result, Costa Ricans not only value their natural environment for their own pleasure and for the sake of its beauty, but also, as a valuable resource to preserve.
Sustainability is taken very seriously, as you can see by visiting the ICT (institute of CR tourism) webpage right here.
And there it is. There is a lot to learn, and more to explore in the whole realm of sustainable tourism. However, you can come here, right now, this year, and be a big part of the change.
You can help conserve wilderness, promote animal restoration, and healthy community involvement, just by coming here and having the time of your life.
We can’t wait to see you.