Nature-based tourism is boosting local economies while also helping conserve the natural environment, according to University of Florida research. Studying nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica, Taylor Stein, report author and University of Florida associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, found that successful ones “usually invested in environmental protection and maintenance,” while “tour businesses of all sizes circulated money throughout local economies,” according to a UF news report.
Providing patrons an environmental ‘feel-good’ factor about their vacations is a key strategic element for Costa Rica’s larger, successful ecotourism businesses, but successful nature tourism businesses “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk,” Stein found.
“It used to be that you didn’t see hotels bragging about the fact that they don’t wash the bath towels every day of your stay,” he was quoted as saying. “But now, it’s rare not to see these signs in most hotels. If that makes customers happier, the hotels will do it.”
Besides helping customers know and feel they’re supporting a healthier, more sustainable natural environment, successful nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica also go the extra yard when it comes to highlighting their businesses actual “green” practices and the value and importance they place on environmental conservation. “They provide environmental education to visitors, supported conservation initiatives, recycled waste and used environmentally friendly equipment,” the UF report notes.
Stein also found that successful nature and ecotourism businesses in Costa Rica are also intensely focused on local spending and business networking. In addition to employing local residents, they focus on purchasing supplies locally and use local lodging.
Florida Aims to Boost its Nature Tourism
Florida is aiming to boost nature tourism in the state. That prompted Stein, with the assistance of graduate student Lisa Seales, to study nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica, a longstanding top ecotourism destination. Nature tourism was the fastest growing sector of Florida’s tourism industry in the 1990s. There hasn’t been much in the way of definitive research on Florida’s nature tourism market segment since then, but Stein believes it can be again.
Counties across Florida are looking to attract tourists to their natural attractions, according to Stein. Brevard County is aiming to position itself as a top nature tourism destination, he noted. Located on the Atlantic coast, Brevard County is home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Sebastian Inlet State Park and “several other notable attractions.” “That’s a pretty big deal for Florida,” Stein commented. “We’re not used to saying ‘come to our forests, come to our springs.’”
Stein himself is helping promote nature tourism in Florida. “His latest project focuses on ways to market the Florida National Scenic Trail, which covers 1,400 miles from the westernmost part of the Panhandle to the southern tip of peninsular Florida,” according to UF’s report.
*Photo credit: National Scenic Byways Program