Costa Rica News – Costa Rica has grown as a mecca for ecotourism from the late twentieth century. Although biologists and other students of ecosystems and biodiversity were vital at the start of the process, as were conservation NGOs and the national government, this paper argues that entrepreneurs were also pivotal. While showing the benefits of ecotourism, it is also shown that as the industry scaled, there were increasing challenges of greenwashing.
Between the 1970s and the 2000s, Costa Rica became established as the world’s leading ecotourism destination. This working paper suggests that although Costa Rica benefited from biodiversity and a pleasant climate, the country’s preeminence in ecotourism requires more than a natural resource endowment explanation. The paper argues that the ecotourism industry was a co-creation of the public, private, and tertiary sectors.
While the role of the government and conservation NGOs is acknowledged in the existing literature, this study draws attention to the critical role of small entrepreneurs. Making extensive use of oral history, this working paper demonstrates the role of tour companies in drawing affluent Western ecotourists to the country, as well as profiling the creators of ecolodges and other forms of accommodation in providing them with a place to stay. These entrepreneurs, many of them expatriate Americans, helped ensure that formally protected areas remained sustainable parks and reserves by providing revenues, conservation education to tourists, and community development and jobs.
Clustering created positive externalities for new entrepreneurs to enter the industry who could also learn from knowledge spillovers. There were downsides to the new industry, however. The creation of the national image of a natural paradise enabled many businesses that were not environmentally sustainable to free-ride on the green image. Even values-driven ecotourism entrepreneurs faced questions about their impact as they expanded the scale of their operations. While scaling was a sign of success and delivered many benefits to Costa Rica, there were distinct drawbacks from a sustainability perspective.
by Geoffrey Jones and Andrew Spadafora, Harvard Business School