Blake is the veteran guidebook author of The
New Key to Costa Rica and has kindly agreed to participate
in an online
Starting this conversation ...
Ron Mader: Beatrice, in the world of ecotourism
and responsible travel, what issues are you paying attention this
year? What gets your goat? What's gives you hope?
Beatrice Blake: 2008 marked a new era in telling
it like it is in tourism in Costa
Rica. In areas like the beaches of northern Guanacaste,
where overdevelopment goes beyond the capacity of local water
and sewer infrastructure, certain hotels were closed by the
government (temporarily) until they could figure out something
to do with their sewage besides dumping it in the ocean. New
developments were actually checked for building permits, and
many were found lacking. A four-story height limit was put on
new buildings in some areas.
Since I have been excited by the development of community-owned
ecotourism businesses in Costa Rica over the last decade, and
have given them a lot of space in The New Key to Costa Rica,
I started seeing overdevelopment as a community issue too. It's
a sign that the people of a community do not have a say in what
goes on there--to the point where the community's water supply
can be threatened. This has been the subject of several lawsuits
in the northern Guanacaste beaches.
So it gives me hope that under the government of Nobel prizewinner
President Oscar Arias, these attempts to call a spade a spade
in terms of overdevelopment have been at least named, if not
addressed. But it also deeply saddens me that drug money seems
to call the shots in Central America and Mexico these days,
causing so much death and destruction at the same time as the
hotels and shopping malls rise. Couldn't there be a way for
the US to control its hunger for drugs? And as the world economy
falls apart, can we rebuild it in ways that make it possible
for poor people to make a living?
Because the new edition of The New Key features innovative communities
where visitors can see permaculture, alternative energy, organic
banana, coffee and chocolate, and positive community ownership
and inclusion, I decided to just leave out communities that
were examples of the failure of inclusion and the giving over
of healthy community needs to the needs of developers, like
Playa Jacó and the beaches of Northern Guanacaste. I'd
be glad to include them once they at least solve their infrastructure
problems. But until then, it is impossible to talk of sustainable
tourism in those regions.
On a happier note, for most of the travelers who visit ACTUAR's
community-owned ecotourism destinations, the experience is the
highlight of their trip, offering them real interactions with
Costa Rican people who are creating healthy communities by conserving
their forests and rivers, and attracting tourism in a responsible
conversation continues ...