Can ecotourism deliver real economic, social, and environmental benefits? A study of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Carter A. Hunt, William H. Durham, Laura Driscoll, Martha Honey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Doubt persists about ecotourism's ability to make tangible contributions to conservation and deliver benefits for host communities. This work in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula tests the hypothesis that ecotourism in this region is more effective at improving well-being for local residents, at enhancing their access to key resources and information, and at supporting biodiversity conservation than other locally available economic sectors. Data from 128 semi-structured interviews with local workers, both in ecotourism and in other occupations, together with associated research, indicate that ecotourism offers the best currently available employment opportunities, double the earnings of other livelihoods, and other linked benefits. Locally, ecotourism is viewed as the activity contributing most to improvements in residents’ quality of life in the Osa Peninsula and to increased levels of financial and attitudinal support for parks and environmental conservation. Ecolodge ownership by local people is substantial, and many local ecotourism workers plan to launch their own businesses. The data offer a convincing rebuttal to arguments that ecotourism does little to address poverty or disparities in access to resources and equally rebuts claims that ecotourism is simply a part of the “neoliberal conservation toolkit” that cannot help but exacerbate the very inequalities it purports to address.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-357
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 16 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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