Entrepreneurs and the Co-Creation of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

58 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2016

See all articles by Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Harvard University - General Management Unit

Andrew Spadafora

Harvard Business School

Date Written: June 14, 2016


Between the 1970s and the 2000s Costa Rica became established as the world’s leading ecotourism destination. This working paper suggests that although Costa Rica benefited from biodiversity and a pleasant climate, the country’s preeminence in ecotourism requires more than a natural resource endowment explanation. The paper argues that the ecotourism industry was a co-creation of the public, private, and tertiary sectors. While the role of the government and conservation NGOs is acknowledged in the existing literature, this study draws attention to the critical role of small entrepreneurs. Making extensive use of oral history, the working paper demonstrates the role of tour companies in drawing affluent Western ecotourists to the country, and of the creators of ecolodges and other forms of accommodation in providing them with somewhere to stay. These entrepreneurs, many of them expatriate Americans, helped ensure that formally protected areas remained sustainable parks and reserves, by providing revenues, education in conservation to tourists, and community development and jobs. Clustering created positive externalities for new entrepreneurs to enter the industry, who could also learn from knowledge spillovers. There were downsides to the new industry, however. The creation of the national image of a natural paradise enabled many businesses which were not environmentally sustainable to free-ride on the green image. Even values-driven ecotourism entrepreneurs faced questions about their impact as they expanded the scale of their operations. While scaling was a sign of success and delivered many benefits to Costa Rica, there were distinct drawbacks from a sustainability perspective.

Keywords: eco-tourism; Costa Rica; entrepreneurship; sustainability

JEL Classification: N56, N86

Suggested Citation

Jones, Geoffrey Gareth and Spadafora, Andrew, Entrepreneurs and the Co-Creation of Ecotourism in Costa Rica (June 14, 2016). Harvard Business School General Management Unit Working Paper No. 16-136, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2796024 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2796024

Geoffrey Gareth Jones (Contact Author)

Harvard University - General Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Andrew Spadafora

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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