Trade-offs in nature tourism: contrasting parcel-level decisions with landscape conservation planning

Trade-offs in nature tourism: contrasting parcel-level decisions with landscape conservation planning


This article discusses the trade-offs linked to nature tourism in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Nature tourism has been used for promoting conservation in Costa Rica since the 1970s when it was adopted into developmental policy. Tourism is now the largest industry in Costa Rica; but is nature tourism an effective way to preserve ecosystem services and promote economic benefits? The study area includes Monteverde (an ecotourism town near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve), San Luis (a coffee and dairy farming community), and Guacimal (economy based on cattle ranching and dairy).

Goals & Methods

The author of this article used remote sensing to model forest cover change between 1985 and 2009, specifically NDVI as a proxy for total biomass. Interviews were also conducted with landowners to understand their perceptions of land use changes and conservation with regard to natur tourism in the area.

Conclusions & Takeaways

Odds of forest regrowth were significnatly increased within 3km of Monteverde (nature tourism community) or a protected area, with increasing distance from a road, and with increasing slope and proximity to a river. Proximity to San Luis or Guacimal (the more agricultural communities) did not predict odds of forest regrowth.
Interviews ellucidated that nature tourism in the area brought benefits such as forest regeneration, increased precipitation and wildlife, more off-farm employment opportunities, and infrastructure development. Negative impacts of nature tourism were increased garbage and pollution, increased cost of living, loss of agricultural knowledge, and increased crime. Policy decisions throughout the 1980s and 1990s incentivized conservation and nature tourism as the most profitable land use over agricultural production, and farmers that continued cultivation allowed regrowth on steep slopes and near rivers to prevent erosion and protect water quality.
In many cases, the best lands for preserving ecosystem services will be conserved, and those that are better for agriculture will be maximized for their income potential by the farmers. Landowners are not affected equally by economic incentives for conservation, thus it is important to understand the variables that affect trade-offs related to nature tourism.



  • University of Georgia