Could ecotourism be the next tool in fighting poverty and maintaining a healthy environment in Latin America?
Over the last 10 years, the Caribbean and Latin American tourism industry has grown more than 50%. It seems no small coincidence that during that same time regional poverty was cut remarkably in half. Of course there is a distinct line between causation and correlation, but many researchers are saying that responsible tourism may in fact be one of the best modern tools for fighting poverty.
[quote_center]“The importance of tourism for job creation and poverty reduction cannot be overestimated. Today, tourism is beginning to be recognized as a major source of economic growth especially in poor countries. However, how at the same time it can be a force for poverty reduction.” — Chief Elizabeth Tinoco, ILO[/quote_center]
Ethics of Tourism
It’s worth noting that not all tourism is good tourism. All too often, countries who see the economic value in tourism shove aside both individuals and the environment in order to achieve a higher national GDP. Native lands for indigenous peoples, their culture and natural reserves for plants and animals all come into risk when irresponsible tourism is allowed to grow uncontrolled.
Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, is a form of tourism that respects the social and cultural values of the surrounding communities while ensuring environmental preservation. This form of tourism is crucial to providing job opportunities, as well as drawing in business to other local small business owners.
While sustainable tourism can take many forms, many ecotourism companies have been great role models, setting regional precedents for sustainability.
[quote_center]“By recognizing the importance of protecting biological diversity, ecotourism is raising appreciation for biological resources and leading to better conservation practices by developing country populations.” — The Untamed Path [/quote_center]
The Costa Rican Example
It is said that Costa Rica is the birthplace for ecotourism. With over 1.7 million tourists entering the country each year—80% of whom coming specifically for the rich outdoor adventures—there is no questioning the the sub-industry is alive and well in the land of pura vida.
What’s more is that Costa Rica has added incentives for ecotourism companies and organizations: from ensuring that the money from park entrance fees go back into park operations and conservation to awarding local communities contracts for operating food and souvenir concessions, helping both to build local involvement and a commitment to the well-being of environment.
Advocacy is an irreplaceable necessity when it comes to poverty alleviation, but the truth is creating and supporting sustainable jobs is also important. Whenever you embark on responsible eco-tourism activities, you are encouraging the sustainability movement, voting for conservation and saying this stuff matters.
So get out there! Take a guided hike through some of Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests, rappel down that waterfall, soar through the trees while zip-lining! Just make sure you use companies that are locally-located.