Ecotourism, sustainable development, and conservation education: Development of a tour guide training program in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
A tour guide training program was developed for rural communities near Costa Rica's Tortuguero National Park to respond to the impacts of the 24-fold increase in park visitation in the past decade, to involve local communities in resource management, and to provide regional environmental education. The development of the training course involved a survey of scientists and park managers to ascertain resource management needs, priorities for information to be disseminated, and impacts of tourism on the resource base. Current and potential tour guides were surveyed to identify their information needs, solicit their input in the training program, and to determine their knowledge and skills. Written questionnaires were developed and given to 400 tourists to determine their activities and environmental information needs, and hotel owners were censused to examine the economic feasibility of a local guide program. A pilot training course and guide program involving 12 Tortuguero residents demonstrated that a tour guide program: (1) helped mitigate negative tourism impacts on Tortuguero National Park's natural resources, particularly by regulating tourists on the park's 35-km beach used for nesting by endangered sea turtles; (2) provided environmental education to an important segment of the local community not traditionally reached through school or government development projects; (3) provided environmental information to tourists, thus enhancing their visit; and (4) provided local economic benefits through lucrative part-time employment, thereby allowing local people to participate more fully in the tourism system. An extended training course is being planned to provide further environmental education programming and to increase year-round employment opportunities for the tour guides.