By Lisa Khajavi
The evolution of 'Ecotourism'
As a world-wide leader in nature-oriented travel, with 5% of the world's biodiversity within only .035% of the world's land, Costa Rica continues to be in the spotlight for ecotourism. Since 1993, tourism has been the top generator of foreign revenues for Costa Rica, surpassing both bananas and coffee. The ICT (Costa Rican Institute for Tourism) acknowledges that the tourism in Costa Rica has become mainly ecotourism. It is easy to see why, with Costa Rica's 26 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas or mangroves, 11 forest reserves, 8 biological reserves, as well as 12 other conservation regions. The array of flora and fauna is staggering. Martha Honey of the CESD (Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development) cites the following:
"This West Virginia-sized country boasts more bird species (850) than are found in the United States and Canada combined, more variety of butterflies than in all of Africa, more than 6,000 kinds of flowering plants (including 1,500 varieties of orchids), and over 35,000 species of insects. Costa Rica is, as former minister of natural resources Alvaro Umana put it, a biological superpower." (Honey 2003)
All of this natural wonder in the most stable country both socially and politically in Central America, perhaps even all of Latin America, is heaven for especially the ecotraveler. To its credit, Costa Rica has the highest percentage of protected land in the world (Fenell and Eagles 1990). Further, Costa Rica has preserved these lands and natural habitats in such a way that they are more accessible to tourists than those of any other country in the region (Budowski 1993). The small size of the country is a huge factor as well; a traveler has the opportunity to visit more destinations per visit if desired.
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as:
"Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."
The history of ecotourism is interesting. The term 'ecotourism' was coined in 1983 by Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, one of Mexico's top architects as well as renowned environmentalist and Ecotourism expert. Ceballos-Lascurain is the Director General of the Programme of International Consultancy on Ecotourism (PICE), and special advisor on Ecotourism to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The following definitions are quoted from Ceballos-Lascurain in an ecoclub.com article Meet the Architect of Ecotourism.
1983 definition: "Ectourism is tourism that involves traveling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural aspects (both past and present) found in these areas." His hope was that the result would be that people would become more knowledgeable and aware of nature and thus likely to be more involved in conservation issues. This very desire came to fruition.
He revised the definition in 1993, which was then adopted by the IUCN in 1996 as its official definition, which states: "Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy, study and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features, both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations."
What began as a niche in the early 80's has grown exponentially with far-reaching effects. From the roots of ecotourism sprang 'responsible' and 'sustainable' tourism, and as seen above ecotourism is now defined to include the latter. In October of 2008, United Nations Foundation Founder and Chairman Ted Turner joined the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to announce the first-ever globally relevant sustainable tourism criteria at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The new criteria was developed to offer a common guide to the burgeoning practice of sustainable tourism and to help consumers, businesses, governments, non-governmental organizations and education institutions to ensure that tourism has positive, rather than negative effects on local communities and the environment. To find out more, check out http://www.SustainableTourismCriteria.org.
In order to promote tourism providers that practice sustainability, the Costa Rican ICT developed the Center for Sustainable Tourism (CST) which provides certification to businesses that are committed to sustainable practices. The certification is given at levels from 1 to 5 green leaves, with many businesses currently certified and in process. The Rainforest Alliance recognizes the CST as a valid entity to promote and ensure sustainable practices in Costa Rica. Countless others in tourism are involved in sustainable practices in Costa Rica that are under the radar. Also there is the newly formed Costa Rican National Chamber of Ecotourism (CANAECO) which is Rainforest Alliance affiliated. With all of these organizations to help promote and enforce authenticity, backed by huge consumer demand, there is sure to be more and more in the tourism sector on board to protect Costa Rica's priceless ecosystems and communities.
If you are interested in Ecotravel or Ecotourism in Costa Rica, speak with an expert, contact us here: Nature Vacations. We can provide you with invaluable advice about anything you have interest in regarding ecotourism in Costa Rica. For a list of top Eco Friendly hotels and lodges feel free to visit us here: Costa Rica Eco Travel Hotels and Lodges
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