Note for new readers: This summer I’m collecting data for a research project I began last semester called Performing Tourism: Authenticity, identity, and mobility among youth travelers. To find out more about the project, scroll through earlier posts or check the Performing Tourism category.
Wow, where to begin?
There is so many more dimensions to tourism than I thought there would be. Vaguely, I knew that the travel industry was big and influential. But now I’m beginning to see how the act of just one person moving from their home territory can have repercussions around the world. Tourism is more than just a business. It creates lifestyles that entire families will live for generations (think running a hotel or hostel in a small town). It puts value on skill sets that would otherwise be arbitrary (like the ability to create tens of mostly identical small wooden monkeys in a few days). It has the power to change the way famers do their business (we visited a coffee farm that went organic to set themselves apart and now make a large percent of their income from paying foreign volunteers).
Agriculture Eco Tourism. I’ve seen this word in a few places, most recently as a sign on a fence of a local farm we passed. Since coming on this trip, I’ve realized that almost anything can be turned into a type of tourism and be given a name. There’s drug tourism, resort tourism, surfing tourism. (Remember, I define “tourism” as just the act of leaving your home environment for more than 24 hours voluntarily and for pleasure.)
My interviewees are here for a variety of reasons. Some are taking a gap year before university. Some are taking their kids traveling for the first time, and come to Costa Rica because it’s said to be an easier place to travel with children and will work their way up. (Security is a mass tourism trait, by the way.) Others just want to see a sloth once in their lifetime. They come on their own, they come with friends, they come with family. They come for the national parks, for the drug therapy camps, for the Segway tours.
(Really. In Quepos, the town we’re in right now, you can take a Segway tour of the beach.)
“I personally believe ecotourism is an incredibly powerful tool for conservation.”
I’ve been curious about how tourism has affected conservation efforts. I think a good way to see the possible effect of tourism on environmental protection is to look at the difference between Costa Rica and Panama. They’re very similar geographically and I think similar politically, but the difference between the two countries when it comes to conservation is striking.
In Costa Rica, there are signs all over the place asking people to watch and take care of the environment, not to throw trash, to respect the place. In Panama, I don’t remember any such efforts. On the contrary, trash litters the streets and it’s hard to find biodiversity because it’s been over hunted or otherwise destroyed.
How much of the push to conserve Costa Rica has been due to 1. Locals recognizing the value of conservation, 2. Locals recognizing that the tourism-dependent economy relies on tourists who like to see signs of conservation, 3. Foreigners who who notice the same as locals in 2 and come to run hostels and research field stations, and 4. Foreigners who value conservation for conservation’s sake and come to one of the most biodiverse places in the world to protect it?
One thing I’ve realized since arriving here is that the push for ‘progress,’ development, and unsustainable production (mostly agriculturally) was due almost entirely to the actions and influences of “first world” nations like the US, Spain, and presumably England. The push for conservation is said to have started also with activists from these nations, in the 50s and 60s by foreign couples and groups who did things like buy huge tracts of land and keep it undeveloped. For example, the watershed of Monteverde was preserved by American Quakers fleeing the draft in the 50s, and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest was actually created with money raised by school children in Sweden and matched by the Swedish government and impressed adults around the world.
Many questions to be answered!
On goes the research.