Ecotourism as a Social-Ecological System: A Case Study in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Committee ChairGimblett, Randy
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractDespite the dramatic increase in ecotourism as a sustainable development strategy over the last two decades (Honey 2008; Yunis 2000), theoretical models to interpret and evaluate ecotourism—as well as the broader field of tourism—are lacking (Farrell and Twining-Ward 2003; Weaver and Lawton 2007). Farrell and Twining-Ward (2003) call for a reconceptualization of tourism study that incorporates social-ecological systems (SES) theory. This dissertation responds by assessing ecotourism as an SES in a dryland setting, addressing the question: "What key characteristics of ecotourism increase social-ecological resilience?" The study site is Santa Rosa National Park and surrounding communities in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Higham and Lück (2008) cite sustainability as the "ultimate goal of ecotourism" (Higham and Lück 2008, p 124); however sustainability itself proves to be a difficult concept to measure and evaluate (Cater and Lowman 1994; Dernbach 2002; Weaver 2001a). SES theory recognizes sustainability as a process rather than an end goal and identifies resilience as a key attribute (Berkes, Colding, and Folke 2003). With ecotourism as an economic strategy of nearly every developing country since the early 1990s and an increasing economic strategy in rural areas worldwide (Valaoras, Pistolas, and Sotiropoulou 2002; Honey 2008), this study investigates ecotourism through the lens of social-ecological resilience for increased sustainability. Based on a 12-month survey conducted in Santa Rosa National Park and the surrounding area, this study identifies characteristics of ecotourism that can cause different levels of resilience using indicators of increasing biodiversity, economic diversity and social capital. These relationships are represented by linked and continually changing social and ecological systems, diagramed by Holling‘s adaptive renewal cycle (Berkes, Colding, and Folke 2003; Gunderson and Holling 2002). Three research papers are included as part of this dissertation: 1) Área de Conservación Guanacaste, Parque Nacional Santa Rosa Ecotourism Study: Final Survey Results, Analysis and Recommendations; 2) Ecotourism‘s Contribution to Social-ecological Resilience: A Case Study Analysis of Rural, Dryland Ecotourism in Guanacaste, Costa Rica; and 3) Barrier-free Ecotourism? The Costa Rican Approach. Findings of this study include recommendations for ecotourism programs to increase social-ecological resilience and contribute to the sustainability of linked SESs.
Degree ProgramArid Lands Resource Sciences