Tourism is often presented as a panacea to less developed countries. Costa Rica, with its well-developed tourist infrastructure and impressive natural wildlife and nature reserves, has become a hot spot for so-called ecotourism.
The main attraction in the national park Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas in Playa Grande, is The Turtle Tour. These tours are marketed as an ecotourist s dream of an encounter with nature . There is a great deal of controversy about the national park, related to the financing problems and the high number of visitors believed to cause problems for the turtles. There are a number of interests involved in the Las Baulas National Park and heated debates about the rules and activities are frequent.
This thesis presents ecotourism in a social and cultural context, and I consider the various groups, interests, views and conflicts involved in ecotourism. I show how the abstract ideals of ecotourism are realised in practice in a national park project. It explores the organisation and meaning of this particular representation of ecotourism in Costa Rica, where the turtle tour and the national park is the main focus. Aspects of tourism and the meetings involved will be central in my thesis as I try to explain the disputes and the encounters between different life worlds and meaning universes. Some of the questions discussed are; what is ecotourism and how is it organised? What are the characteristics of the relations and meetings between the parties involved, and the experiences of residents and tourists? I show how different values and views of nature, and the power to define who is right and who is wrong, colour the interpretations of ecotourism.
Never ride a Turtle refers to one of the rules for turtle viewing in Playa Grande. The reader should keep in mind when reading this thesis: when a turtle crawls up on the beach everyone wants to ride the turtle. This picture should serve as an analogy to the fact that everyone seems to want to join the ecotourism bandwagon. At the same time, everyone wants to side with the idealists and the environmentalists, to communicate their identity as the ones that are really devoted to saving the turtles and the environment.
The following conclusions are presented:
The idea of ecotourism represents a paradox. In practice, interactions on the arena of ecotourism trigger conflicts between various parties. In encounters between insiders and outsiders , locals and foreigners; identity management becomes central; differences are communicated, and stereotypes are enforced. Ecotourism as consumption of nature becomes a result of fluctuating trends in contemporary, modern Western societies. Hence, nature becomes commercialised. When analysing consequences, it seems reasonable to conclude that ecotourism is no different than general tourism. Such a conclusion indicates that local communities are likely to end up in the tourist trap . My intentions in this thesis are to explore ecotourism and uncover the local voices in the tourism process. My hopes with this thesis are to contribute to ecotourism research and to reveal that local participation and implementation is important if projects like the turtle tours should be successful. Referring to the cover [turtle tracks in the sand], I hope to have clarified where the tracks lead, who left these marks, and most of all; ecotourism as an international tourism-trend might be as transient as turtle tracks in the sand