Pura vida. That is the expression that comes to mind when one thinks of Costa Rica. It’s rainforests and beaches have in recent times been a popular choice of vacationers the world over.
This vacation spot is the topic of a new book by assistant professor of political science Andrew Miller entitled, “Ecotourism Development in Costa Rica: The Search for Oro Verde.”
The book examines the use of ecotourism as an economic development strategy in Costa Rica and its applicability to other Latin American countries.
Having traveled to Costa Rica on several occasions, Miller had been interested in uniquedevelopment initiatives and how they have affected a country’s economy.
“I had been interested in non-traditional development strategies because if you look at the economic development in Latin America, many of the things they’ve tried haven’t worked, and so I think if you look at Costa Rica and the fact that they’ve achieved a much higher average income than people in their region, you start to then look at the reasons behind that,” Miller said. “I was really drawn to this particular topic because of the success in Costa Rica and the fact that the development plans in other states have not been nearly as successful.”
Ecotourism, a form of tourism that involves visiting natural areas, as a development strategy is distinctive. In order for it to succeed, it must preserve the natural environment, but it also must do so in a way that does not preclude growth in other sectors of the country’s economy. The book examines how the successful pursuit of foreign direct investment combined with Costa Rica’s biodiversity and its attractiveness as a tourism destination is important to understanding the success of the Costa Rican economy.
“What makes ecotourism interesting is that people go some place to see something different,” Miller said. “Ecotourism seeks to put some of this money back into the environment so it can basically be utilized as an income-generating activity but one that’s non-destructive.”
Miller said ecotourism is interesting because it seeks to preserve what people to go to see on vacation, such as Costa Rica’s rainforests, animals and volcanoes.
“I think that there can be an economic development path that makes money off the environment without destroying it,” Miller said.
In addition to taking students to Costa Rica this spring for Alternative Spring Break for the fourth year in a row, Miller will also offer a summer class during the first summer session in Costa Rica that will spend two weeks in the town of El Coco, partnering with the chamber of commerce to help boost their ecotourism industry such as sustainability projects, translating brochures and making sure maps are correct.
Miller also has another book coming out this summer entitled “Globalization, Neoliberalism and Ecotourism Development,” which will examine the applicability of the Costa Rican model of economic development to Panama, Belize and Nicaragua.
Senior psychology major Chelsey Schoch will be getting her first taste of Costa Rica during Alternative Spring Break this year. She is excited about experiencing a different culture and understanding other people.
“It’s really exciting to be able to go to another country and be able to meet with people that are from another culture and see their perspective,” Schoch said. “I’m a psychology major so it’s kind of our job to understand other people as best as we can so I think it’s really important for me to do something like this in order to help other people as best I can.”
Schoch hopes to completely immerse herself into the Costa Rican culture and gain a better understanding about the fair trade business. She also hopes to gain a better appreciation of coffee.
“I hate coffee right now so I’m hoping that by the end of this I’ll be able to at least be able to drink a cup of coffee ‘cause it’s going to be the coffee business fair trade we’ll be learning about,” Schoch said.
Senior history major Alex Madaya traveled to Costa Rica last year for Alternative Spring Break and said there were so many amazing things there. She also said she gained a better appreciation for the United States’ infrastructure.
“We put our recyclables on a curb and it is picked up and taken away and it’s not even something we have to think about. We go to the grocery store and we buy food that comes from a farm that we don’t even think about,” Madaya said. “With Costa Rica it’s a little bit different. With the recycling project, those were people who volunteered to pick the recyclables out of the garbage or we worked on a coffee plantation and it took me two hours to pick one basket of coffee cherries where that would have paid me about $2.”
Madaya said she has an appreciation for the U.S. economy and infrastructure as the result of her experiences in Costa Rica. She would recommend it to any students “in a heartbeat.”
“Costa Rica is beautiful, the people there are so welcoming, they welcome you into their homes, they feed you dinner every night and you bond with everyone on the trip so I would absolutely without a doubt recommend it to anybody who wants to apply,” Madaya said.