Comparing and Contrasting the Ireland and Costa Rican Tourism Industries

Comparing and Contrasting the Ireland and Costa Rican Tourism Industries

Tourism has always played a significant role in the economies of Costa Rica and Ireland.  Despite the countries being continents apart, both can attest to getting high tourism earnings from the industry - Comparing and Contrasting the Ireland and Costa Rican Tourism Industries introduction.  The two countries have small land masses with Costa Rica having the least at 52,000 square kilometers, while Ireland has 70, 273 square kilometers. The two countries relies heavily on tourism earning with the industry ranking  as the  highest  income earner in Costa Rica , and only as the second income earner after  technology in Ireland.

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In 1998, at least 5.5 million visited Ireland from different oversees countries (Bord Failte’, 1999). Of this, Britain accounted for the highest number of tourist with 58 percent, a further 23 percent were from other European countries, while America accounted for 15 percent visitors to the island. In the same time, Costa Rica had 811,000 tourist arrivals (, 2008), with the biggest percentage of this country’s tourists coming from the United States and Canada. This explains the four direct flights from the United States, some which ply the route on a daily basis.  An indication that the European market was taking a liking for the Costa Rican tourism first appeared in 1998 when the first flight from London to Costa Rica was launched (Costa Rica tourism Bureau, 2007).  In both countries, it is evident that proximity to main tourism source locations plays a major role in determining the tourists that come into the countries.

Costa Rica has an excess of 300 animal species and 2,000 plant species evident through out the   country’s topography and climate.  In an attempt to protect this from destruction and over exploitation, the Costa Rican government gazetted 23.4 percent of the country’s total land mass as protected areas. As a result, the country has the largest conservancy area when compared to its entire land mass.  Ireland on the other hand has 481 animal species and 950 plant species (Butler, 2006). 1 percent of the animal species found in Ireland cannot be found anywhere in the world and at least 2.5 percent of the animal species are threatened with extinction. The Ireland government has managed to protect only 1.1 percent of its land mass, which includes the Natural heritage areas, the special areas of conservation and the special protection areas (Nation Botanic Gardens, 2008).  Compared to Costa Rica, the total conservancy area in Ireland is trifling. The situation is especially bad, considering the rate of forest cover in the country is has been on a steady decline. Today, only 9.7 percent of Ireland’s land mass is under forest cover.

Costa Rica and Ireland boast of diverse terrains in addition to the flora and fauna that serves as the main tourist attractions in both countries.  While Costa Rica has beaches on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Ireland   has beaches on cities bordering the Celtic sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.  Both countries therefore make maximum use of the beach tourism.

Another common characteristic between tourism in the two countries is the fact that both have taken an interest in rural tourism. Although the motivation behind the respective initiatives is different, the results seem rather similar. So far, the two countries have managed to curb rural urban migration by creating income earning ventures in rural tourism for their respective populaces.

Rural Tourism

As one wound expect, rural tourism in Ireland is dominated by the locals. The locals not only invest in building accommodation, hotels and guest houses, but have also taken up jobs such as tour guides and tour marketers.  In this country, the government encourages rural tourism in areas that are agriculturally unproductive.  One of the successes of rural tourism as portrayed by 2002 estimates is that it has managed to generate 30 percent of the tourist earning in the country (Derek, 2005). This however has taken government initiatives, which encourage investments in this sub-sector by granting incentives to local groups, whose responsibility is to not only invest the money wisely, but also come up with effective management and marketing plans  that would ensure that rural tourism continues attracting more tourists.   Notable however, is the need for rural Tourism in Ireland to adopt marketing approaches that will make it known in the international markets. The locals also need to infuse professionalism into the sub-sector by training in the relevant tourism courses. If this is done, then one can hope that rural tourism in Ireland will continue being a unique experience for more tourists.

Costa Rican rural tourism, just like in Ireland is an imitative between the local community and the government. Beyond the development agenda that is the main motivation behind establishing this form of tourism, the Costa Rican government has taken it a step further and uses rural tourism as a measure of enhancing the Country’s unique culture and identity (Instuto Costarricense de Turismo- ICT, 2008). Since tourism is the main income earner in Costa Rica, the government also uses rural tourism as a means of distributing the national income throughout the country. As such, the country encourages local investment, which by 2008 had created at least two jobs in every household (ICT, 2008)

Unlike the Ireland rural tourism, the Costa Rican model is diverse and includes activities such as agricultural activities, cultural festivals held in villages, sporting activities such as horse riding.  Similarities, between the two models as practiced in Costa Rica and Ireland are that tourists to the distinct locations get to enjoy the culture, history, unique assets, the people and cultures through rural tourism.  In both countries, tourism looking for culture adventure gets to enjoy the diverse cultures and activities practiced by the locals.


Although there is no standard definition of what eco tourism is, the general perception is that the term refers to responsible tourism that not only enjoys the joys offered by unpolluted natural habitats, but also takes great efforts to ensure that minimal damage is sustained by the environment where such tourism takes place. An added assumption in the ecotourism segment is that local communities where such tourism is practiced benefits from the produced by eco-tourism.  According to Primrose (2003), eco tourists not only travel in natural habitats, but also promote environment awareness. In addition, eco-tourists also seek to create environment awareness by empowering the inhabitants of the tourism sites. More to this, eco tourism upholds the values of the local people.

Ecotourism is a new concept in Ireland and is currently being used by tourism operators as a marketing tool. This is proving an easy time for the marketers since Ireland has always been seen as a green tourist attraction due to its lush natural wild landscape (World travel guide, 2009).  In Costa Rica however, eco tourism is a long-discovered concept and is the leading tourism segment in the country.  The concept is so popular in Costa Rica such that the government announced it participation in a tree planting initiative in 2007. According to Honey, M (2008), this was done with the goal of making the country Carbon neutral by the year 2030.

In Costa Rica, Eco-tourism is divided into hard eco-tourism, general/soft eco-tourism, adventure eco-tourism, education eco-tourism and canopy tourism (UNEP, 1998).  From the different categories, Costa Rica manages to attract hundred thousands of tourists to the country.

 Similarities between the two countries on the eco-tourism front are most evident in the conservation challenges facing them. Most notable is the ever increasing danger of too many tourists flooding the respective countries at a rate that overrides the eco-tourism objectives. This is especially so because increased tourists stresses the natural habitats, especially where tourists engage in exercises that are harmful to the ecosystems. Such activities include dumping and too many trails that destroy the plant cover.

Both countries also have to  deal  with ‘green-washers’, who are players in the tourism industry using the eco-tourism concept for economic gain and do not in any way live up to the requirements of  the eco-tourism concept. Such include airlines, hotels, and tour companies. Although it is up to the tourists to confirm if indeed the airline, hotel or tour firm is indeed true to the ecotourism cause, it is general knowledge in both countries that the hoodwinking of tourists by the green washers may have adverse effects on the overall industry in the respective countries.

Apart from visitor overcapacity, the two countries also have to deal with haphazard developments by investors creating more accommodation for tourism along the high tourism areas. More to this, there is also the risk that there is lack of adequate enforcement of laws that apply to the protected areas. This is especially likely if enough funds are not allocated to this cause, and may arise if the management of such areas is poor.

It is also possible that in the quest for more profits, unregulated developers would put up culturally insensitive projects, thus leading to loss of cultures that has always featured among the prominent tourism attractions.

As discussed later on in this paper, the development of eco-tourism is mainly driven by governments in the two countries. As such, all initiatives in this sub sector rely heavily on government funding, and this too features as one of the threats facing the industries in both cases. Without government support, the industries would face immeasurable challenges.

Another challenge that is not as serious in Costa Rica as it is in Ireland is the shortage of skilled labor in the industry. In Ireland, this is associated with the low wages paid to workers, too much work and anti-social hours that some sectors in the industry require their employees to work (Cronin, 2003). As such, most people in Ireland do not take tourism as a serious career that needs training; rather, they take transitional jobs in the sector as they await better career prospects in other areas. On the same front the Costa Rican work force, often times express their concerns over the lowly jobs and low incomes that come their way. They also petition the government over the lack of career advancement opportunities for them especially because the well paying positions in the tourism sector are reserved for the foreigners.  Unlike the Ireland workforce who sees tourism as a transitional career, one gets the feeling that Costa Ricans generally, lack the chance of advancing their tourism careers, but would gladly do so if given the chance.

Governments’ participation in the Tourism Industry

Ranking as the second income earner in Ireland and the first in Costa Rica, tourism is evidently a vital contributor to the economies in the two countries. As a result, the respective governments to take keen interest in the activities, progress and results of the industry. It is also the prerogative of the government to cushion the industry from collapse. This is done by the provision of incentives that encourage investments in the industry, which in turn attracts more tourists to the respective countries.

In Ireland, the government in conjunction with the European Union spent 4.3 billion euros in the 1990’s. Estimations by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development further indicate that an addition 35 million euros was used in advertising Ireland  as an ideal tourism destination, while an extra 38 million Euros was  spent on marketing. Training the locals on tourism took a further 107 million euros (OECD, 2004).

Costa Rican government, just like the Ireland government has over time played a major role in shaping the tourism industry.  Among the main, but indirect benefits, that the tourism industry gets from the government is a viable business environment which sprouts from the non-militant state of the country (Reding, 1986). This in turn means that Costa Rica is a country, which enjoys peace and tranquility through out its history.

In addition to the peaceful environment, the government on realizing the important role that tourism industry played in the country  put up viable policies that ensured  that the industry not only develops to accommodate more tourists, but also that the tourism industry retained its integrity.  An example of government intervention in the industry was the 1984 legislation that gave state incentives to a wide range of stakeholders in the Costa Rican tourism industry.  This was closely followed by tax breaks to the same industry players in 1985.  Noteworthy was the 12-year tax break that led to the construction of 7134 hotel rooms in just two years after the tax break was granted (Honey, 2008).

 In a similar move to the Irish one, where the country sought financial aid from the European Union in order to get enough finances to invest in the Industry, Costa Rica sought the help of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the international Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Unlike the Irish scenario how ever, most of the funds received from this outside sources are channeled towards developing the eco-tourism industry.  Some of the Money provided by the World Bank in 2000 for example was channeled to paying landowners as compensation for not cutting down trees (Dasebbrock, 2002).

As much as government funding is good for the tourism in the two countries, it is also evident that there is too much over-reliance on respective governments for funding. This means that the industries in the two countries would suffer a huge blow should the government decide to pull out.

Tourism related Security

Ireland is generally safe and crime rates are generally low (, 2006). This explains the lack of any special attention on tourist security. The general advice to tourists however is for them to avoid displaying wealth to the public, to avoid carrying secured bags, to avoid displaying valuables on the car windows and to stick with other people, even in the parking lots.

Tourists are especially advised to be on the look out in areas like Dublin, where general muggings, thefts, violent attacks and burglaries are common.  Unlike other countries where the police force is known to help tourists, facing security threats, tourists in Ireland are warned that the police force in this country is not involved in fighting crime. The Gardai- as the force is commonly known- for excusing serious crimes and meting trouble-free punishment to the offenders (, 2006). It is still vital to report crime to them for the sake of obtaining the necessary documents required to file insurance claims.

In Costa Rica however, security in the tourism sector is a government major concern. At the height of security concerns to tourists in 2006, the Costa Rican government set up a special unit within the Police force to handle tourism security (Logan, 2007). In addition to ensuring the physical security of people touring the country, officers designated to the special unit were trained in detecting a wide array of tourist-targeting crimes. The police force in Costa Rica has also played a major role in ensuring security in the protected tourism areas.

International Rankings

Both Costa Rica and Ireland have been subject to international rankings in the tourism industry. In a 2007 ranking report conducted by the World Economic Forum, Ireland was ranked number 27 in the overall competitiveness, while Costa Rica was ranked at number 41. Ireland was however ranked at the 14th position in regulatory framework category, while Costa Rica took position 39. On the business environment and infrastructure category, Ireland was ranked at the 26th position, while Costa Rica took the 52nd position. On the category which evaluated the effective use of natural resources, job creation and cultural value maintenance, Ireland ranked 46th, while Costa Rica ranked in the 20th position.

On the regulatory framework comparison, Costa Rica was ranked at position 39 overall, while Ireland was at position 14. The regulatory framework rankings considered the policies, regulations, and regulations employed by each country whereby Costa Rica managed to score the 17th rank, while Ireland took up position four. Environment Regulation between participant countries was also considered where Costa Rica was ranked at number 35, while Ireland too up position 22. The safety and security measures employed by the countries were also considered in the survey. In this sub-category, Costa Rica scored position 67, while Ireland managed position 31, on health and hygiene Costa Rica was ranked at position 50 and Ireland at position 35. The last category looked on how countries prioritized tourism and travel in their respective economies. At this, Costa Rica ranked 34th while Ireland was at the 24th position (Blanke and Chiesa, 2007).  Should  one consider the evaluations carried out by the World Economic Forum as enough base to rank tourism in both countries, the assumption is that Ireland would rank better than Costa  Rica, just as ranked in the 2007 survey.  124 countries were analyzed and ranked in this survey.

Effects of tourism in Costa Rica and Ireland

Like all countries, Costa Rica and Ireland have borne both the good and the negative effects of tourism. Among the prominent positive effects in both countries, is the economic contribution. In 1998, tourism accounted for 7.5 percent GDP in Costa Rica with $659.6 million annual income. It was the highest income earner for the country. In Ireland, tourism earnings amounted to 2.3 billion Irish Pounds. 1998 was especially a good year that saw the entrant of 50 new hotels in the hotel, and this in turn created more jobs for the local people (Cronin, 2003).


The similarities evident in the tourism sectors in the Ireland and Costa Rica is the critical role that the sector plays in the respective economies of the two countries. According to the World Economic Forum ratings, Ireland ranks higher than Costa Rica. This however is no surprise especially because Ireland is a developed country and therefore has the infrastructure to ensure that tourism gets the resources it requires. Costa Rica scores best in the extent and the efforts that the country puts in ensuring that ecotourism is maintained in the country. Ireland is just catching up on this concept and may have to put extra efforts before it finally catches up with Costa Rica. In conclusion, however, one cannot help note the struggles apparent in any developing country in the tourism sector in Costa Rica.


Blanke Jennifer & Chiesa.  (2007). the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2007. World Economic Forum.  Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Bord Failte. (2000). The Irish Tourism Industry. The Irish Times: Business. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Butler, Ret (2006). Ireland. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Costa Rica Tourism and Travel Bureau. (2007). Getting into the Country. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Cronin, Michael. (2003). Irish Tourism: Image, Culture, and Identity. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Dasenbrock, Julie. (2002). The Pros and Cons of Ecotourism in Costa Rica. TED Case Studies. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Derek, R. et al. (2005). Rural Tourism and Sustainable Business. Bristol: Channel View Publications

Honey, M. 2008. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? Ed. New York: Island Press (2009). Ireland’s Tourist Information. Travel information Ireland. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Logan, S. (2007) Securing Tourism in Costa Rica. Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

National Botanical Gardens. (2008). Protected Areas in Ireland. Ireland’s GSPC Focal Point.  Retrieved 12 March 2009 from

Reding, A. (1986). Voices from Costa Rica. World Policy Journal Vol.3

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