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Ecotourism is an oxymoron. Sustainable tourism as alternative?

The case of Costa Rica.

May 10, 2006 Suzanne Nievaart

Introduction
I first learned about the concept of sustainable development and all its facets about two years ago, during one of my university courses. The concept of ecotourism was only briefly mentioned at that time. Searching on the internet, I soon discovered that ecotourism was abound in Costa Rica. Enticed by the promises of the adventurous and environmentally friendly exploration of ancient rainforests, I decided my next trip to Latin America would have to include Costa Rica. I realized tourism will most likely only increase worldwide and I thought promoting it in a sustainable way must be the most desired path to take. Becoming more acquainted with the pillars of sustainable development and its tools such as ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ during my studies, I began to doubt if all the ‘ecotours’ in Costa Rica were all they pretended to be. Although an in-depth analysis may require onsite research, the literature review I have made now has already confirmed by previous doubts of ecotourism in Costa Rica. The starting point for this paper is van der Duim and Philipsen’s article ‘How eco is Costa Rica’s ecotourism?’ (2002). One of the issues mentioned by the authors that are at stake in answering the title’s question is the statement that tourism development which is geared towards ‘ecotourism’ excursions has negative impacts on the immediate natural vicinity. In this paper I will focus on the impacts of tourism on nature and the environment in order to illustrate the paradox of ecotourism in Costa Rica. I will argue that this implies that the ‘eco’ of ‘ecotourism’ no longer represents the ecological dimension that environmentalists initially intended with this prefix. This is illustrated by the definitions given in the Collins English dictionary:
Eco-: combines with nouns and adjectives to form other nouns and adjectives which describe something as being related to ecology. Eco-tourism: the business of providing holidays and related services which are not harmful to the environment of the area.

whereby minimalizing impacts in its practice defeats its own purpose once it becomes large scale. I will demonstrate that there are two ways in which ecotourism is an oxymoron. and therefore the rest of Costa Rica’s nature is slowly deteriorating by the hordes of tourists that come to visit the national parks and reserves. individuals can set up their ‘eco’ outfit anywhere and anyhow they please. ecotourism is seen as a tool for sustainable development. the ‘eco’ of ecotourism generally implies that it is an environmentally friendly form of tourism. where ecotourism is a national project. and most pertinently. In this paper I will discuss the case of Costa Rica. 3) The popularity of ecotourism in Costa Rica has resulted in mass ‘eco’ tourism. Ecotourism Paradise Costa Rica is well known as an ecotourism destination. Part 1: Ecotourism is an oxymoron. there are very few consequential guidelines. Its popularity is often attributed to . First of all. 2) The small-scale and low key nature of ecotourism ventures leave it highly unregulated. tourism itself inevitably has negative impacts on the environment. Therefore. conservation is not practiced. In Costa Rica. 4) Tourism itself is environmentally destructive: the rainforests of Costa Rica would have been best left untouched altogether.In this paper. 2005: 136. yet ‘eco’ implies a lop-sided balance. and is perhaps even the most popular destination in Central America (Tepelus et al. negative impacts occur on four levels: 1) Outside the ‘protected’ areas. and Weaver 1994: 170). Costa Rica. Not only is this often not the case. I will conclude this paper by discussing ‘sustainable’ tourism as an alternative approach for sustainable development. wherefore the economic and social aspects should be balanced with the ecological aspect. but proving to be not so ‘eco’ in practice. Secondly.

These scientists ‘discovered the country’s natural beauty’ and spurred the government onto developing nature conservation programs in the 1960’s. along with Costa Rica’s reputation as a promoter of natural resource preservation and sustainable development (Tepelus et al.). diverse fauna and flora. 2005. 2005: 136. Carriere 1991. and waste and sewage disposal deficiencies which lead to land and water contamination. vol. pesticide poisonings. It offers outdoor sports such as climbing in the tropical rainforest as well as deep-scuba diving off the “sun-sea-sand’’ beaches (Ibid. Menkhaus and Lober 1996. volcanoes. 1998 van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 62. 2003: 322 and Groen 2002: 43). Since this time tourism to these ‘protected’ areas has increased. Currently. coral reefs. all within an oversee-able small size and a relatively secure environment due to its political stability and high standard of living (Boo 1990. mangroves.the fact that it contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity in mountains. as well as a solution to the previously accumulated foreign debt (Thrupp 1990. Dasendrock 2002. The state saw the promotion of ecotourism as a solution to international criticism of Costa Rica’s environmental problems such as deforestation. rainforests. Stem et al. Menkhaus and Lober 1996). declining land fertility. when national parks were first created (Groen 2002: 54-55). 2: 27. Inman et al. 21% of Costa Rica is protected in 24 national parks (Dasenbrock 2002). ‘The first ecotourists in Costa Rica were scientific researchers and those who were not very different from the scientists themselves in terms of their interests’ (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 62). Presently. soil erosion. which leads to land degradation. ‘one of the main ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica’ (Baez 1996. 113). tourism has become Costa Rica’s dominant source of foreign income (Groen 2002: 54-55. and Dasenbrock 2002). one of which is the Manuel Antonio National Park. . beaches. and Krüger 2005). fuelwood scarcity. Tepelus et al. cloud forests.

Theory versus Practice Each (scientific) author that writes about ecotourism which I have encountered signals the problem that ecotourism is a vague concept which is defined differently by all parties that choose to use it. The definitions are then interpreted widely. In the 1950’s. van Wijk 2000. and the most discussed in the literature. These definitions are appropriated according to the needs of the definer. Whelan 1991. In the following section I will discuss that the (scientific) ideal of ecotourism is unfortunately not lived in practice. These definers and interpreters are the actors involved in . 2). and has pioneered in exploiting its natural base for ecotourism. I will therefore use these two parks as examples to argue that ecotourism is an oxymoron. and has been ‘compared to very popular and overcrowded tourist destinations in Europe’ (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 66). Its prosperity attracted many Costa Ricans to the area. such as the pioneer Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The Monteverde and the Manuel Antonio are the most popular (eco)tourism destinations in Costa Rica. with tourist fees that contribute for almost 100% to nature conservation. Another development that has led to Costa Rica’s green image is the creation of private nature reserves. in line with the interests of the interpreters. Vol.Due to its various attractions and its proximity to the international airport. American Quaker settlers bought a large portion of land and started a dairy farm (Groen 2002: 54. Since then it has expanded and evolved into a privately-owned and operated ‘protected area’. Manuel Antonio is very popular among ecotourists. so that the reserve can expand and be maintained (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 67). see also Mowforth and Munt 1998. Fennell 1999 and Boo 1990.

ecotourism: the tourists. ecologically sustainable tourism. governmental and non-governmental organizations. river rafting. financial or development institutions. and Inman et al. whereas nature tourism can also be mass tourism in nature or adventure tourism (Fennell 1999: 35-36. makes a distinction between nature tourism and ecotourism: ecotourism is a form of nature tourism. indigenous and integrated tourism. but with an educational and sustainability aspect. Much like sustainability. and is the prefix that distinguishes tourism from ecotourism’ (Björk 2000: 196). Quite often. In theory. for example in reference to typologies of ‘ecotourists’ (Fennell 1999: 56-57). the term ecotourism is often used interchangeably with nature tourism. and Groen 2002: 56). naturebased activities such as hiking. . however. tour operators etc. Nevertheless. Fennell.: 11. Buckley 1994: 661. see also Buckley 1994: 661-662. an ecological tourism. green tourism. adventure tourism. Fennell 1999: 56-57. In practice. environmentally responsible travel and so on (Groen 2002: 44. ‘eco originates from the word ecology. ‘Sustainability is also an ambiguous term which is very difficult to measure objectively … sometimes ideology alters the perception of facts … Given this confusion over terminology. and proposes it has the potential to be a form of sustainable tourism. environmentally appropriate tourism. 1998: 11). it makes a contribution to conservation and raises environmental awareness. scientists. sustainable tourism. canoeing or other “off the beaten track” excursions are advertised under the name of ‘ecotourism’ (Whelan 1991: 46. however. this is not always necessarily the case (Koeman 1998). and Stem et al. it is low-impact. 2003: 323). Koeman presents ecotourism as a distinct niche or segment of general nature tourism. alternative tourism. it is hardly surprising that the debate often focuses on semantic details rather than the effects of ecotourism on natural resources’ (Krüger 2005: 580). Inman et al 1998. Fennell also uses the two terms interchangeably. the host populations.

has enabled a lot of ‘Greenwashing’ in Costa Rica. Environmental impacts . and by including “soft tourism elements”. and Björk 2000). who are seeking a new lifestyle and a travel experience different from conventional tourism’ (Pleumaron 1990: 14). and culturally insensitive’ travel is advertised as ‘eco’. Almost all forms of travel in Costa Rica are given the political correct label ‘ecotourism’ while it is far from ‘eco’ or coming close to any other goals of sustainability in the socioeconomic dimension (Groen 2002: 58. tour operators try to ensnare all those individuals and groups. or the internet. who see it as a form of environmental opportunism that allows continued exploitation of natural environments by mass tourism. Already in 1990. whereby the prefix loses its original sense and the value of ecotourism is diminished as tourists are deceived (Dasenbrock 2002). 2: 28). ‘There are many critics of ecotourism. This is a result of the shuffling of the terms ecotourism. adventure tourism and nature tourism.ecotourism has lost its original sense and has become a ‘buzzword’ (Koeman 1998). Wall 1997: 487. but belies the negative environmental impacts of all forms of tourism (Pleumaron 1990). ‘of the approximately 30 travel agencies in Costa Rica. Greenwashing occurs when explicitly ‘environmentally destructive. economically exploitative. brochures. one-third are called “ecotourism agencies”’ (Boo 1990 vol. Most tourists base their travel decisions on information they receive from travel agents. Greenwashing This buzzword and its promotion as a national conservation and development project. Mass tourism cloaked in a green name’ (Koeman 1998). Much greenwashing occurs at the marketing level. Using nice-sounding alternative or ecological terms.

noise pollution. wildlife mortality. health hazard. 2) small-scale tourism is developed in an uncontrolled and uncoordinated manner. behavioural changes of animals. as well as the travel to get there. it exceeds all possible ecological limits. I am certainly not the first one to comment that ‘ecotourism leaves footprints in the host community’ (See also Wall 1997: 487). I can summarize four levels of environmental impacts by ecotourism: 1) outside the protected areas hotels and other facilities are built. far from the reality. ecotourism is marketed as ‘eco-friendly’ or environmentally sound. and environmentally sensitive (Lumsdon and Swift 1998). ecological changes. Based on conclusions in the literature. habitat loss. environmental stress. van der Duim 1993. change in water acidity.Most definitions of ecotourism place nature and conservation at the root of ecotourism initiatives (Björk 2000: 192). It is. concluded by most authors that in practice. habitat destruction. Krüger 2005). deterioration of vegetation. ecotourism is not actually contributing to conservation. groundwater pollution. trail erosion. forest fires. and 4) all tourism is inherently destructive. deforestation. Yet. As Weinburg (2003) sadly already mentioned. The ideal is. erosion. scarring of landscape and mangrove destruction (Boo 1990. 3) when ecotourism becomes large scale. contamination of air. 2003. however. 1) The Hypocrite State . Examples of negative environmental impacts of tourism to protected natural areas: overcrowding. however. This is indeed the ideal of ecotourism: low-impact. changes in animal behaviour. 1). low-consumptive. Vol. and land. water. and it is frequently suggested that it is in fact contributing to environmental destruction (Boo 1990. Stem et al. Björk 2000.

and malls. It is suggested that economic gains for the wealthy elite are of a higher priority for the state than ecological conservation (Groen 2002: 43. despite much criticism from green activists. van der Duim and Philipsen 2002. golf courses. I shall refer to the ecotourism policy of Costa Rican government as the state seems to say one thing and do another (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 62). and contaminate residential waters with fertilisers and pesticides. despite their aim for ‘sustainable development’ (Groen 2002: 54-55). and often authors signal a lack of regulation. The Costa Rican Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is part of the state’s strive for sustainable development.‘…the ‘eco’ more appropriately refers to the economic wealth it will generate for its investors rather than to the local ecology it will save’ (Mowforth and Munt 1998: 311). Dasenbrock 2002 and Stem et al. Koeman 1998. This is a current example of Costa Rica’s contradictory policies. 2003: 322). Many authors criticize Costa Rica’s hegemonic reputation for its ‘green’ policies. Another example is the Papagayo Project: …will turn Costa Rica's Bay of Papagayo on the Pacific Coast into a mega-resort area with high-rise hotels. This development project deviates from the nation's typical encouragement of small scale construction by locals over resort development by foreign investors. Mowforth and Munt 1998: 310-311.). and critics argue that it signals the end of truly sustainable ecotourism in Costa Rica’ (Dasenbrock 2002. implementation and control of its policies. Yet environmentally destructive golf courses have been approved by the EIA. Hill 1990. They claim the golf courses consume enormous amounts of water. On the first level of environmental impacts. see also Marshall 1996: 25-26). Marshall 1996: 25. not to mention the hundreds of hectares of tropical forests that were destroyed to create the golf courses (van Wijk 2000: 5 and 19). it even received the “Green Devil Award” in 1993 (Ibid. as well as the greenwashing in which also the state partakes: ‘The use of the title “Ecodesarollo Papagayo” [Papagayo Ecodevelopment] is a sad .

exclusive tours in natural areas where limited amounts of visitors are allowed at a time. Whelan 1991. or in any case. Furthermore. despite the fact that these facilities may be small-scale in their initiation. disruption and destruction of flora and fauna in the area and so on (van der Duim 1993: 24). The negative impacts include solid waste generation. Not to mention the environmental impacts such abuse brings with it. see also Mowforth and Munt 1998. in the rest of Costa Rica. 2) Small and Local Most ecotourism projects are small-scale. tourism is developed just outside the parks and reserves. driven by the concept of ‘carrying capacity’. such as air. To return to the example of Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. has not been established for any of . or “reserve” are seriously threatened by ongoing deforestation for agriculture and industrial use (Groen 2002: 54. 2005: 136): Those areas that are not explicitly labelled “national park”. which puts more pressure on the remaining reserves (Weaver 1994: 173. “refuge”. deforestation and contamination continues as it did before the new ‘green’ policies.attempt to disguise this huge construction project under the all-too abused umbrella of eco-tourism’ (Marshall 1996: 25. Fennell 1999 and Boo 1990). Each study which refers to ‘carrying capacity’ as a means to minimize tourism impacts on the environment. and Tepelus et al. and trail erosion (Stem et al. also admit that this limit is difficult to establish until it has been exceeded. water and sound pollution. Groen 2002: 55. ‘Many additional attractions have been installed varying form short nature trails to technical equipment that makes it possible to travel through the roof of the rain forest’ (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 64). van Wijk 2000. SN]). 2003). habitat disturbance. [my addition. where there is no environmental regulation or control (Weaver 1994: 173). a visual disruption of the landscape.

It has been suggested that ecotourism in Costa Rica is now at a ‘crossroads’ (Lumsdon and Swift 1998. Other authors propose to leave this concept behind altogether and come with new models. It is precisely this scale enlargement that belies the purpose of ecotourism. been . as ecotourism in Costa Rica has moved from small-scale to mass tourism. Dasenbrock 2002 and Marshall 1996). and Fennell 1999). Koeman 1998:3. in fact. such as the Papagayo Project mentioned above: the ‘tug between preservation and profit’ (Hill 1990.the parks in Costa Rica (Boo 1990:41.it is very difficult to have ‘little tourism’.. such as ‘limits of acceptable change’ and ‘recreation opportunity spectrum’ that will determine a limit to tourism in protected areas (Koeman 1998: 3. The popularity of ‘ecotours’ and its effects outside the ‘protected areas’ have had negative ecological impacts over a long period of time. Inman et al. 3) The demise of ecotourism in Costa Rica ‘. This shortsightedness is often due to the fact that the government focuses on large-scale projects that create short-term and large profits. they have. It is like being a little pregnant. it has a habit of growing and changing’ (Butler 1991 in van der Duim 1993: 27).. Profit tends to win. A lack of long-term planning is generally attributed to the problems associate with the scattered and uncoordinated development of small-scale ecotourism initiatives (Groen 2002: 54-55): There is ‘significant environmental damage caused by the excess of poorlyplanned small-scale tourist operations scattered around this country’ (Marshall 1996: 25). Popularity implies that more people will partake in a cetain activity. Wall 1997: 488). van der Duim 1993: 28. Van der Duim 2002). 1998. in the sense that the protected areas have not been protected by promoting (eco)tourism.

if it is given the opportunity to expand and multiply uncontrollably as it did in Costa Rica.’s conclusion that due to the nature of the ‘ecological footprint’ of tourism in any form. but now it is in danger of being loved to death. Sadly. Boo 1990 vol.com/ecotourmonteverde. over 200. and can take some of the pressure off Monteverde's still beautiful forests (http://www. trail erosion and changes in wildlife behaviour have been noted in Manuel Antonio National Park’ (Weaver 1994: 173. ecotourism in Costa Rica has evolved into mass which environmental impacts ‘overcrowding. This disillusionment is partially due to the assumption that ecotourism implies conservation. with the last hour and a half on steep. ecotourism eventually becomes mass tourism. leaving tourists disillusioned (van der Duim and Philipsen 2002: 63).keytocostarica. Also Monteverde has seen a demise in biodiversity. ‘By allowing unlimited numbers of tourists into protected areas and encouraging tourism. Monteverde has been an inspiration to many other areas in Costa Rica which now provide less crowded alternatives. water pollution. unpaved roads. Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserve was one of Costa Rica's first principled ecotourism destinations. . the construction has negative of high-rise hotels and resorts’ such as (Dasenbrock 2002). as the chance of encountering the famed quetzal or the golden toad featured in the National Geographic documentary is practically none. This demonstrates Weinberg et al. this was already signaled in 1991: Monteverde. is virtually overwhelmed with visitors at the peak season (Whelan 1991: 52). and certainly not species extinction. Wall 1997: 489. Costa Rica. which has received the most international press. despite the fact that it's four hours from San Jose.deteriorated by ecotourism. and Cater 1994: 77). 2003: 324. There are currently tour operators offering alternatives to what was in the early 1990’s called ‘alternative’ tourism: Each year. Whelan 1991: 52.000 people visit Monteverde. 2: 48). which has will inevitably lead to a decrease in ecotourists (Stem et al.htm).

van Wijk 2000. Dasenbrock 2002. Dasenbrock 2002. Weinberg 2003. however contributed to conservation financially (Lumsdon and Swift 1998. The type and amount of energy used spilled by airplanes cannot be compensated by a “green” vacation (Groen 2002: 59). Koeman 1998. Mowforth and Munt 1998). but it will destroy the very resources on which it is based. On to enjoy ‘undisturbed nature’ (Björk 2000: 191) elsewhere. Stem et al. which provides blinders for the fact that tourism itself is ecologically harmful.4) The paradox of ecotourism ‘…potential visitors are encouraged to go before it is too late. At this point. Inman et al. 1998. It has. 2003. the more damage is being made to the area that is meant to be conserved (van der Duim 1993: 27 and Whelan 1991: 11). as most of the literature on tourism discusses (for example. until the . 2003. 2005). and Tepelus et al. it can be suggested that they are being recruited to put the last nails in the coffin!’ (Wall 1997: 488). which is run on fossil fuels: the weakness of any form of tourism that pretends to be “eco” and requires traveling of considerable numbers of people to other places is energy waste and pollution. Van Gulik 2000. Stem et al. as was mentioned earlier in the use of ecotourism as a buzzword to greenwash mass tourism (Baez 1996. 2003. This illustrates the paradox of ecotourism: the more funds for conservation are gathered through tourism. Fennell 1999. starting from the moment a tourist steps into an airplane. however. Cynically. Cater 1995: 22. Ecotourism may be seen as a ‘conservation tool’ (Krüger 2005: 594). and current research on ecotourism demonstrates (Weinberg et al. the tourists can always go somewhere else. and ‘erode’ the concept of ecotourism itself. Stem et al. and Krüger 2005). and Wall 1997: 490). This damage would not only make ecotourism defeat its own purpose. 2003: 324. 112. Boo 1990. yet tourism itself is inherently destructive.

However. Since tourism is inherently destructive. is when they stay at home. seeing ecotourism as a tool of conservation and sustainable development is insufficient: ‘conservation through development should not be a stand-alone protection strategy’ (Stem et al. there is ‘usually considerable disagreement concerning which changes are desirable’. development is a force of change. Just as tourism is an ‘agent of change’ (Wall 1997: 490). Whereas this means of tourism stimulates the audio and visual senses. 2003: 322). the tourist will not be able to have the ‘authentic’ experience of ‘being one with nature’. Furthermore. it has been suggested in the ‘ecototalitarian’ (Dietz 1996) approach. social and economic dimensions . according to the definitions and interpretations of the actors involved (Wall 1997: 483). The three pillars of sustainable development that I have referred to earlier are the ecological. with which the term ecotourism is often interchangeable. but also for community development (Stem et al. Varying forms of ‘new tourism’ (Mowforth and Munt 1998). tourism is seen as an imposition on the host population and environment.‘ecotourist’ gets there. Sustainability versus Development As demonstrated above. it inevitably brings about change (Wall 1997). 2003: 341). when tourists are best protecting the environment. behind the computer (Mowforth and Munt 1998: 28). that the only true form of ecotourism. in which case it automatically becomes ‘disturbed’. where they can engage in ‘virtual tourism’ in the comfort of their own homes. are part of the larger concept of sustainable development. an experience that is normally desired by those promoting sustainable development. Therein ecotourism is not only seen as a tool for conservation.

1998. For ecotourism to imply development is in itself a paradox. at least conceptually. This diffusion is ideally one of the goals of ecotourism according to many authors. Much is like not the inherent or characteristics development ecologically environmentally friendly. Mowforth and Munt 1998. . Krüger 2005. Fennell suggests that finding a balance between economy and ecology is therefore not possible within the current system. The conservation goals of ecotourism.of the world. it is not often fulfilled in its execution. wherein economic development is the ultimate achievement. and Cater 1995). Sustainable development’s goal is to find a balance between these three dimensions in order to relieve poverty and to create intra-generational and intergenerational equity (Oceans Atlas 2006). van der Duim en Philipsen 2002. The development model is based on a 1960’s idea of progress and modernization. and according to Sachs (1999). it is ‘a contested context’ of (Wall tourism. The local population. we should leave the development model behind us in order to achieve sustainability. Many authors have referred to the economic ‘leakages’ which occur when foreign investors and entrepreneurs set up ‘eco’ shop in countries such as Costa Rica (Inman et al. 1997: 484). attempts to knit the elements of economy and ecology together (via parks) through the tenets of environmentalism and sustainable development’ (Fennell 1999: 77). ‘Ecotourism. which magnifies social inequality and power structures instead of diffusing them. is merely an extension of this philosophy of ‘working within the system’ and one that. There is ‘considerable debate over the nature of development’. with the exception of the local elite. to some. In the next section I will propose that sustainable tourism can be an element of an alternative system. do not explicitly include the other two dimensions. Place 1995. therefore. does not benefit economically from ecotourism. Dahles and Keune 2002. therefore. however.

However. My ideal is therefore sustainable tourism. To achieve sustainable ecotourism involves balancing economic. in a ‘win-win-win’ strategy (Björk 2000: 197). The newly derived ‘pro-poor tourism’ does emphasize the social and economical aspects. Many authors propose ‘scenarios’ (Brouwer 2002 and Cater 1995) or create management plans (Inman et al. as well as promoting the ideal of sustainability. environmental and social goals within an ethical framework of values and principles (Koeman 1998:9. economical and social aspects. 1998). Another suggestion is that the ‘greening’ of mass tourism instead of multiplying small-scale ecotourist projects is more sustainable (Groen 2002). . it implies the social and economical dimensions of sustainability as well as the ecological dimension. see also Wall 1997: 490). I prefer the term sustainable tourism. but is NOT automatically. Björk devises a strict definition of ecotourism to distinguish it from nature and adventure tourism. but not so much the ecological aspect (Mowforth and Munt 2003: 273). a harmony between ecological. Most definitions of ecotourism are based on the assumption that it contributes to sustainable development (Björk 2000: 194). Ecotourism is not ‘eco’. define principles and ‘key factors’ (Koeman 1998) of successful sustainable development and analyse these initiatives thereafter (Thrupp 1990). although just as vague and open to interpretation as ecotourism. among all parties involved. and lacks an emphasis on social or economical aspects. a form of sustainable tourism.Part 2: Sustainable tourism as alternative? Sustainable Tourism ‘It is important to note that ecotourism CAN be. has not yet been achieved to date. yet according to the literature I have encountered. although it may have nothing to do with sustainability. ecotourism often gets away with being labelled ‘eco’.

2) The small-scale and . there needs to be more explicit positive links between tourism. the actors involved must compromise their own interests on the basis of equality with the other parties involved. the environment and host populations than there are presently. Therefore. A compromise in their values. I zoomed in on Costa Rica. Thereby. ecotourism in Costa Rica has generated negative impacts which occur on four levels: 1) Outside the ‘protected’ areas. as one may not be more valuable than the other. as demonstrated in the case of Costa Rica (Cater 1995).yet it appears that to date it remains on paper and does not exist in practice. the Monteverde and the Manuel Antonio parks. For ecotourism to contribute to sustainable development. I have examined the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and host populations evident in the literature in order to illustrate the paradox of ecotourism in Costa Rica. Firstly. provided the empirical setting for this literature review. considered an ecotourism destination extraordinair in its promotion of adventurous and environmentally friendly exploration of ancient rainforests and its sustainable development policies. Conclusion My starting point for this essay was the study of the pillars of sustainable development and its tools. Hereby my doubts are confirmed: in Costa Rica the ‘eco’ of ‘ecotourism’ no longer represents the ecological dimension that environmentalists initially intended with this prefix. I have presented two ways in which ecotourism is an oxymoron. To achieve the ideal of balance between the three pillars of sustainable development would require a compromise. conservation is not practiced. specifically magnifying the concept of ecotourism. The two most popular ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica.

low key nature of ecotourism leaves it unregulated and unmanaged. Secondly. as it is frequently suggested that it is in fact contributing to countless forms environmental destruction. This destruction is often attributed to what I have called the hypocrisy of the state. The instability of ecotourism as a concept allows for this greenwashing and confusion with adventure tourism and nature tourism. Most authors. but with an educational and sustainability aspect. and small and locally-based initiatives are ignored and left uncoordinated as they do not bring a substantial amount of foreign investment to alleviate the nation’s foreign debt. with all the negative impacts that this brings with it. ecotourism is seen as a tool for sustainable development. where there is no environmental regulation or control. The popularity of ‘ecotours’ have created colossal negative ecological impacts in the long term. . mostly due to scale enlargement: ecotourism in Costa Rica has now successfully become mass tourism. and it is low-impact. however. which attests to a lack of long-term planning. and 4) Tourism itself is inherently environmentally destructive. whereby tourism is developed just outside the parks and reserves. This destruction has contributed to what is now perhaps considered to be the demise of ecotourism in Costa Rica. which is attested by the development of ecotourism as a buzzword and its usage in greenwashing unsound practices. and it makes a contribution to conservation and raises environmental awareness. research on ecotourism suggests that it does not actually contribute to conservation. 3) The popularity of ecotourism in Costa Rica has resulted in mass ‘eco’ tourism. yet ‘eco’ implies a lop-sided balance. presented ecotourism as a form of nature tourism. However. wherefore the economic and social aspects should be balanced with the ecological aspect. due to its contradictory policies and practices.

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