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Linking commercial success of tour operators and agencies to conservation and community benefits in Costa Rica

  • LISA SEALES (a1) and TAYLOR STEIN (a2)


Throughout the world tourism is a tool for economic growth, conservation and improved quality of life for local residents, yet negative environmental impacts and economic leakages are common. Since the impacts of tourism are variable, it is important to understand which businesses are providing conservation and community benefits. Commercial success is often cited as an important determinant of sustainable behaviour, however, little research examines relationships between commercial success and provision of conservation and community benefits. Tour operators (businesses that organize and run tours) and agencies (businesses that sell tours operated by others) offering nature-based tours and travel services in Costa Rica were surveyed to answer the following questions: is commercial success in tourism ventures associated with conservation behaviour and the provision of benefits to local communities? If so, what factors are most associated with commercial success? Commercially successful entrepreneurs provided environmental education to visitors, supported conservation groups or initiatives, reduced, reused and/or recycled waste, used environmentally friendly equipment, and built formal partnerships with community members. Typically, these entrepreneurs had larger businesses, greater perceived success (relative to other similar businesses), and more growth (both in terms of visitors and employees). However, the extent to which entrepreneurs educated and employed local people, purchased supplies locally, and patronized local hotels and lodges was not related to commercial success. Overall, a relationship existed between an entrepreneur's level of commercial success and the provision of conservation benefits, but there was little evidence supporting a relationship between commercial success and community benefits. Nevertheless, most tourism businesses reported that they do provide benefits to local communities regardless of their level of commercial success. Therefore, in a country like Costa Rica, with a long history of using tourism as a conservation and community development tool, this study showed that tourism can benefit the environment and local people.


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*Correspondence: Lisa Seales e-mail:


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Linking commercial success of tour operators and agencies to conservation and community benefits in Costa Rica

  • LISA SEALES (a1) and TAYLOR STEIN (a2)


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