Costa Rica, because of its exemplary system of national parks and reserves, and because it is a peaceful, democratic country with educated, friendly people, has created a flourishing ``nature tourism'' industry. Large numbers of people from all levels of Costa Rican society are employed in the ``eco-tourism'' business. In the areas immediately surrounding the parks and reserves, people from the local communities are employed as naturalists, guides, park guards, and hotel and restaurant employees. The creation of this ``conservation economy'' has caused a change in attitudes among the local populations. Costa Rica now has approximately 140 grass-roots environmental organizations, where 20 years ago, there were almost none.
Thus far, nature tourism has worked beautifully in Costa Rica in creating a ``conservation economy'' and an interest group supportive of maintaining the system of nature reserves. However, various problems exist with the current state of affairs. Most of the nature tourism projects are foreign owned. While these projects generate a lot of employment, there is a certain resentment among the local people with having to work for a salary for foreigners, who are perceived as carrying the profits off to their home countries and not investing much if any of it into the local communities. Historically, the needs of the communities in rural areas have often been ignored by conservation groups and tourism companies, even though their cooperation is absolutely essential in the running of the hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. and in preventing the forested lands from being overrun by illegal loggers, squatters and poachers.
The main obstacle which has prevented Costa Ricans from creating their own nature tourism projects is simply lack of capital, particularly among the rural populations actually living around the parks and reserves. The people in these communities have gained a great deal of experience in the past decade in all aspects of operating nature tourism projects, as well as a wealth of knowledge in the importance of protecting their surrounding natural resources. Recently, they have expressed a desire to mount their own projects, but lack the funds to do so.