Residential tourists in Guanacaste, Costa Rica - who are they, and what is their local involvement?
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Global processes like globalization and the possibility to travel around the world are offering affluent people the possibility to travel around the world easily and to return to the places they like. In this thesis I discuss who the tourists, residential tourists and foreign residents that go to Guanacaste in Costa Rica are, how they regard the local place and environment and how involved they are in that local place and environment. Guanacaste, the research area, is a rural province at the West coast of Costa Rica. Not only the diverse landscape and tropical climate make the country attractive for tourists, also the political stability and the wealth of the Costa Rican population are attractive. Since 2001, the development of (residential) tourism projects increased dramatically in Guanacaste but since 2007 it slowed down because of the economic crisis. Scholars use different terms to describe the temporal migrants who move for lifestyle reasons: amenity migration, lifestyle migration and residential tourism. Various authors warn that the development of (residential) tourism in a developing country only increases social and economic inequality. Others argue that tourism can be or become a development-stimulating sector if conditions like a strong, democratic government, involved and pro-active local population and involvement between the tourists and the local population are met. Tourism and residential tourism can have a positive and stimulating effect in the tourist-receiving area, if the tourism sector has enough linkages with other economic sectors. The local environment should be carefully watched when tourism development emerges. Nature is in a tourism destination one of the most valuable assets and the area cannot afford to lose that pull factor. Tourists are not only interested in nature, but also in typical food, clothing, dancing and other entertainment. Although residential tourists are often no legal citizens in the tourist-receiving area, they might still be powerful because they are usually affluent people who are used to stand up for their rights and opinion. I divided the respondents in three groups: tourists, foreign residents and residential tourists. The majority of all respondents is from North America and is highly educated. The residential tourists are usually retired. The foreign residents are via their jobs or own businesses more involved in Costa Rica than the residential tourists or the normal tourists. There is a clear difference in spending patterns between normal tourists and residential tourists. Residential tourists and especially foreign residents spend more on supermarket shopping and flight tickets. These things do barely contribute to the local economy; most of it leaks away to, for instance, North American airlines or super market owners. Residential tourists spend a bit more on luxury and touristy things which comes back in the local economy like housing, trips and tours and eating or drinking out. The climate or weather of Costa Rica is indeed listed as the number one reason to go there. Second are the beach and nature. Also the residential tourists were highly attracted by the climate, but they were more than the other groups attracted by the property prices and services. In general, the climate, nature and relaxed lifestyle of Guanacaste are the pull factors for all groups of respondents. For the residential tourists and the foreign residents, the home country politics, tax systems and other regulations are mentioned as motives to move, so the push factors. The Costa Rican nature is far more important for the residential tourists and foreign residents than economic development or social wellbeing. They argue that the nature is what makes Costa Rica so unique, services like hospitals, gyms and internet access can be found somewhere else in the world. After nature, social wellbeing and economic growth were equally chosen by the respondents as important for Guanacaste’s future. They argue that social wellbeing is necessary to work and enjoy nature or that via economic development social wellbeing and the nature are developed. Unemployment and stagnation are seen as only temporal and not so negative as environmental degradation. Possibly the respondents see it that way because most of them do not necessarily need a flourishing economy immediately because they are the ones who were strong enough to financially survive the crisis. The respondents showed a strong preference for what they see as original Costa Rican culture and habits. The majority of them prefer to live in a small quiet place and prefer a quiet beach. Only some like both, although several respondents mention they like to live in a small rural environment but in the proximity of a big city with all kinds of services. There has to be a balance for the interviewees between tranquility and services: tranquil should not mean isolated and having access to services should not mean that those services are only delivered by international companies in big cities. The residential tourists indicated that they would prefer Guancaste to develop in a way that is well controlled, responsible and balanced, with everything thought out on forehand and environmental and aesthetic concerns taken into account, like is usually the case in their home countries. The idea that the well-thought-out plans make it possible to control the speed and direction of the local economic growth is attractive to them. So, the residential tourists and foreign residents can handle an economic crisis, but when Costa Rica becomes crowded, polluted and with all services they were used to in their home countries, the reasons for their move to Costa Rica are gone. The majority of the residential tourists and foreign residents talks in a very positive way about the economic crisis. People have to live with less money, but they say to be happier this way. The crisis is seen as an opportunity: a good reason to take a step back, reflect and slow down the development of enormous projects. The residential tourists and foreign residents are socially involved in both Costa Rica and their home country. The type of involvement differs per country. In Costa Rica, the respondents were mainly involved via the local media and in local organizations, but not so much in social life with Costa Ricans. Because there are so many other people from English-speaking countries, it is easier to get contact with them than with only Spanish-speaking people. Besides that, almost all respondents use internet to stay in contact with family and friends in their home countries so the respondents do not even need to contact Costa Ricans or Nicaraguans for their social life. Striking is that residential tourists and foreign residents are involved in local organizations, so that they want to do something for the community. In their home country, the respondents were still socially involved, mainly via internet, but not so much in social organizations. It is not possible to be an active member of, for instance, a political organization when you can never attend meetings. The residential tourists and foreign residents mainly miss non-transportable things from their home country, experiences that cannot be shipped to Costa Rica. To experience these things like the four seasons and snow at Christmas etcetera, the respondents are able to flight back in general once a year. There is a certain feeling of despair or discrimination among the residential tourists. They have the feeling that although they want to do the right thing and that they are engaged in protecting the environment, the Costa Ricans do not take them serious, left out that they would be able to make a change. Most residential tourists and foreign residents see themselves as powerless because they have the feeling that local population and the government do not even want to listen to their ideas and plans. But on several cases the residential tourist and foreign residents have been partly successful in changing plans. When is taken into account that a considerable part of these people is only on tourist visa in the country, they have a remarkable influence.