Ecotourism: Brazil vs. Costa Rica

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Introduction:

With the growing global concern for the environment, new products, industries, and sustainable practices have emerged across a number of industries. The industry of tourism on an international and domestic scale is no different. Over the past few decades, the global tourism industry has witnessed an immense increase in travel based on environmentally sound practices, devised to be sustainable . Travellers are becoming increasingly interested in natural environments, cultures, and adventures. For this new market segment activities such as wilderness viewing, wildlife observation and hiking/trekking opportunities have become more popular to a wider base of customers within the tourism and travel industry . This new form of tourism, also known as ecotourism, has also become an integral part of a number of country’s environmental and economic practices . According to Rual Goueva in his article Managing the Ecotourism Industry in Latin America:Challenges and Opportunities, ecotourism is a specific kind of tourism that “fosters, promotes, and acts as a catalyst for environmental protection ”. It is in his view that ecotourism strategies must pay a great deal of attention to the following: (1) economic development, (2) environmental protection, (3) cultural protection, (4) social development and, (5) political development. As a more sustainable form of tourism, ecotourism offers an alternative and highly effective means for developing and developed economies to blend their economies into the global economy and often “provides incentives to establish sustainable development strategies ”. In summary, ecotourism should concentrate on efforts to maximize the benefits of tourism while minimizing the environmental, economic, political, social, and cultural impacts of tourism. Additionally, policies have to be devised to optimize the allocation of resources from ecoturism revenues to preserve and sustain the resource base. It is, however, important to note the lack of a homogeneous definition of eco-tourism activities within the tourism industry and thus difficult to assess its impacts. Under their functional definition, the World Tourism Organization/OMT concluded in 1998 that ecotourism represents about 2 to 4 percent of total global tourism. However, this percentage is estimated to be much larger as the industry has grown almost exponentially in the past few years and the share of ecotourism broadly defined as tourists that travel to observe and enjoy nature has been expanding steadily during the last decade. Another source with a similar functional definition, the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), estimated that ecotourism is expanding by 20% annually, compared with 7% expansion for the tourism industry as a whole. The specific segment of ecotourism generated around USD 154 billion in revenues for the year 2000 . Continuing, TIES also estimates that between 40%-60% of travel around the world is nature-related and that between 20%-40% of tourists are specifically wildlife related tourists . Furthermore, it should be noted that this segment of tourism can have profound affects on a nation’s economy. It has been noted that ecotourism is primarily led by supply side economics rather than demand. In other words, the quality of the ecotourism experience is positively correlated to the level of environmental protection the local ecosystem enjoys. Ecotourism is therefore classified as a normal good or service. Additionally, it is critical that eco-ventures pay specific attention to the level of environmental disturbance and disruption that ecological and social systems can sustain . As it has been noted, any level of interaction and/or intervention with a local ecosystem may have environmental impacts, which must be minimized in order to preserve the nature being enjoyed via ecotourism . As the effects of tourism within natural and/or preserved areas can hinder or help a specific ecosystem, many policy makers...
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