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Whale-watching revenues and decree regulation awareness in the South Pacific of Costa Rica

Andrea Montero-Cordero 1, 2 & Damin Martnez-Fernndez 2 Escuela de Biologa, Universidad de Costa Rica, 2060 San Pedro, Costa Rica Fundacion KETO 1735-1002 San Jos Costa Rica amontero@fundacionketo.org
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Abstract Experts say that whale watching (WW) has become a billion-dollar business around the globe. However, few socio-economical studies have been conducted in most countries were the scientific management of WW and tourism remains limited. The only socioeconomic data published for Costa Rica comes from a single study in 1998. Since this preliminary data was gathered, there has not been any other research to determine economic growth rate in the last 10 years. The purpose of this study is to provide an update of the current status of WW in Drake Bay, one of the most WW-promoted areas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Furthermore, we assess the awareness of a newly approved WW regulation for Costa Rica. Socio-economic data were collected based on 80 surveys completed by hotel and tour operators managers, tourist guides and boat drivers from 22 businesses. Nineteen businesses offer WW tours, 84% of them are owner operated. Seventy percent of these operators had personnel who hadnt yet read the WW regulation, 6 months after coming into force as a national regulation. A total of $600,000 was estimated in direct WW revenue, which is 500% more than the revenues estimated in 1998 for this industry in the entire country. Informal interviews with stakeholders in other South Pacific communities suggest WW is worth at least $1 million per year for the Osa Peninsula area. The vertiginous growth of the WW industry in just one geographical zone in Costa Rica could work as a platform to estimate the dimensions of this tourist alternative throughout the country. Nevertheless, we strongly suggest not using this data to extrapolate economic figures at a national level since WW intensity and demand is not necessarily the same in other coastal zones.