Costa Rica has invested more than 50 years in rural development, as well as the rural communities have struggled more than 500 years in order to defend their identity and claim the right to development and equity. All these years of efforts are capitalized today into new initiatives for the endogenous enhancement of the local economies.
Community Rural Tourism is one of the initiatives that, little by little, has represented an important means of development for those rural communities potentially capable of competing with other high quality attraction sites. The rural world is therefore kaleidoscopically unique as for assets, history, nature, talents, and hopes. This is the meaning of community rural tourism, an authentic tourist product impossible to imitate, an important tool for the development of the communities and the enhancement of the Costa Rican identity.
Tourism is a dynamic sector that generates development. Specifically, Community Rural Tourism (TRC) oriented to promote tourist activities with local participation is a new segment that is constantly growing and presents very positive features, totally opposite to the well known problems caused by the development of traditional tourism.
In 2003, the creation of the Alliance of Organizations for the Enhancement of Community Rural Tourism integrated an informal place concerning the coordination efforts with organizations showing a recognized experience in the field: COOPRENA, ACTUAR, and Mesa Nacional Campesina supported by the Program of Small Donations of GEF, PNUD, and ACEPESA.
The goal of this Alliance has been to enhance Community Rural Tourism (TRC) as one of the main tourist activities at a national level and to consolidate it as a tool to generate sustainable development with equity and a high participation of local investment.
The Alliance has planned to create conditions in the public-private environment that will promote the local investment and the development of a new and competitive tourist product, in order to transform TRC in a tool aimed at local sustainable development.
Therefore, there must be a strategy facilitating the consolidation of TRC as a tool of sustainable development for the communities with a tourist potential. This calls for the definition and promotion of a state policy promoting local investment and TRC sustainable development, as well as the enhancement of the local entrepreneurial capacity at a national and international level.
Some of the companies representing the offer of community rural tourism have more than 10 years of experience. Most of the initiatives are operated in an informal way, for it has been difficult to record them in the statistics of the sector. This is due to the way this product is created, starting from the effort and creativity of the Costa Rican people that live in the countryside.
However, thanks to the creation of groups as the Mesa Nacional Campesina and marketing groups as COOPRENA and ACTUAR, the creation of the Alliance for the Enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism and the support of the Costa Rica Tourism Board and ACEPESA, there has been great progress in the process of formalizing the operations of this entrepreneurial group, as well as an improvement in the records.
Given that the community rural tourism is mostly a complement to the agropecuary activity, it is difficult to estimate the employments generated directly or indirectly with traditional statistics. However, according to the information obtained by inspectors of the Costa Rica Tourism Board in two visits made to companies part of the Alliance, it can be stated that about two individuals per house benefit from rural tourism income because of their jobs.
Records of the Alliance indicate that the income received per single working hour in community rural tourism is 50% higher than the average rural salary.
This information is quite interesting, considering that basically women take advantage of these jobs, although there is no information in relation to the exact gender composition.
Nevertheless, the potential value of community rural tourism as a development tool is not shown in these numbers. This kind of tourism allows the integration of natural resources, daily life in the rural communities and agropecuary activities in an attractive product for the national and international tourist market. Rural tourism is the perfect choice for the tourist that is interested in knowing and enjoying the life in the country side, such as: horse back riding, walks, agricultural activities, discovering alternative methods of production, fresh water fishing, village festivities, and fairs. All of this without leaving out other accessible possibilities in the area like adventurous tourism, nature, sun, beaches and sport activities.
Moreover, rural tourism provides visitors with a personalized contact. All services are run by the producers through organizations or directly, as a family business.
Unlike rural tourism offered by other countries, community rural tourism companies in Costa Rica need the participation of several families or even the entire community in order to offer a tourist product, due to their community dynamics and the relevance of activity.The main difference between the rural tourism and community rural tourism is that the economic activity is planned by the community organizations and people that live in the communities are those who participate directly in the managing of efforts and its benefits.
The Costa Rica Tourism Board in coordination with the Alliance of Organizations for the enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism has established some fundamental principles that must be guaranteed in community rural tourism development :
Rural tourism was born from the need to generate economic alternatives able to diversify the income of the country side families, that were used to a rural development model aimed at jeopardizing natural resources. For more than 20 years, this model has been fomenting the inequity and the deterioration of the link with the rural community. As a consequence, the development of civil society monopolized the ownership of the land, generating unemployment and emigration.
The Alliance of Organizations for the Enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism appears as a way to coordinate and integrate all the community actions in order to facilitate the development of community rural tourism as a tool of local growth.The Alliance management has started working processes between the organizations of the Alliance and the public institutions oriented to enhance community rural tourism initiatives as well as local development initiatives.