Monday, December 22, 2014

Community Rural Tourism Initiative


Naturewalk is on the leading edge of community rural tourism projects in Costa Rica. Naturewalk through its locally based businesses, supports different local community and enterprise efforts, local business, employment, culture and education. Naturewalk is now the leading employer in the area.

Community Rural Tourism

“Tourist experiences
planned and sustainably integrated
to the rural environment and developed
by local organization for the benefit of the community.”

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.


  • It integrates natural resources (attractions) and the daily life of the rural community.
  • As part of the tourist offer, it promotes and integrates sustainable practices.
  • The tourist experience is adapted to the rural lifestyle and dynamics, preserving “rurality” (showing originality, peculiarity, warm and comfortable environment and the authenticity of the rural part of the country).
  • It is based on management, participation and integration on a local level. (It enhances the local organization in which several families or even the entire community are involved).
  • It integrates the local population in this entrepreneurial activity and distributes equally benefits, by increasing and diversifying the income of the rural families.
  • It promotes the conservation of the land in hands of its inhabitants.

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 :
  • Environmental tourist products that promote a sustainable use of the ecosystems. This involves an evaluation of the impacts of the tourist activity over the natural environment and the establishment of corrective actions and good practices in order to avoid the endangerment of the ecosystems integrity.
  • Incorporation of environmental education aimed at the consolidation of environmental culture.
  • Considering community rural tourism as a whole interacting with other economic and social activities.
  • Priority to core businesses.
  • Pursuit of entrepreneurial integration aimed at facilitating the creation of marketing channels.
  • Promotion of the diversification and innovation of the offer in relation to the sustainable use of  natural and cultural attractions.
  • Priority to mechanisms that guarantee the equal distribution of the benefits generated by tourist activity at a local and regional level and the development of cultural values in the communities.
  • Protection and development of cultural values.
  • Promotion of women active participation.
  • Social integration of minorities, among them ethnic communities.
  • Integration and local concentration of tourist services.
  • Use of  local labour force, providing social security established by law.
  • Tourist product quality promotion through community training.
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.


  • The opening of a negotiation process with the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) to:
    • Define and characterize community rural tourism as national tourist product.
    • Design a project that seeks international resources for community rural tourism enhancement.
    • Create a quality brand for community rural tourism.
    • Carry out a strategy for the enhancement of the upper segment of community rural tourism companies.
    • Create a promotion strategy for the integration of community rural tourism in the national and international market.
    • Incorporate rural tourism products in the promotion of the country’s image abroad.

  • The PNUD (United Nation’s Program for Development), besides being a part of the negotiation process with the State institutions, has financed a start up project to facilitate the incorporation of community rural tourism in the Costa Rica Tourism Board and create an international resources management project.
  • The Development Fund of Family Assignments (FODESAF) started a process to design and finance a Program of Rural Tourism with FODESAF funds, to enable poor families to use the tourist activity as a tool for their social improvement.

  • A community training and formation program in the field of tourism has been established in conjunction with the National Institute of Learning, adjusting the contents and methodology for the markets, characteristics and conditions of the community rural tourism.
  • Moreover, in conjunction with the INS (Insurance National Institute), a collective liability insurance policy has been created for the communities developing tourist products. Taking into account the conditions in which each family lives, they should  purchase their own policy, which happens to be very expensive and complicated. This is an essential requirement to be able to offer the product through travel agencies that operate in the country.
  • As for the process of formalization, negotiation channels must be established with the Ministry of Public Health, in order to facilitate the access of these families operation permits.


  • Costa Rican Association of Community Rural Tourism (ACTUAR), phone numbers (506) 2248-9470, 2223-8509, Fax (506) 2223-8087, e-mail or visit the website:
  • Central American Association for the economy, health and environment ACEPESA, phone/fax (506) 2280-6327, e-mail or visit the website:
  • COOPRENA network, phone numbers (506) 2232-7437, 2290-8646, 2290-8524, 2290-8651, Fax (506) 2290-8667, e-mail or visit the
  • Program of the United Nations for Development, phone numbers (506) 2296-1544, 2296-1736, Fax (506) 2296-1545, e-mail or visit the

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