"We Are Even Poorer, But There Is More Work" An Ethnographic Analysis of Ecotourism in Nicaragua
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This research examines ecotourism outcomes in the context of large-scale tourism development in Nicaragua and focuses on Morgan's Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge. Since ecotourism involves the imposition of Western constructs of nature, biodiversity, communities and conservation, our attempts to evaluate or certify ecotourism are likewise derived from these constructs. Failing to recognize the context where ecotourism occurs may lead to evaluations that place excessive emphasis on poor performance while overlooking relative successes. Initial evaluations of this ecotourism project revealed deception, exploitation, and minimal dedication to ecotourism principles; however, continuing participant observation and ethnographic interviewing among employees and residents forced re-evaluation. In relation to unchecked tourism development in the region, and given the desperate Nicaraguan socio-economic reality for most rural residents, the project must be considered a moderate success. This dissertation later invokes the dominant literature on local reactions to tourism development coming out of the field of tourism studies that uses stage-based models to show that increasing experience with tourism leads to increasingly negative reactions to tourism. This is contrasted with ecotourism research that has shown how increasing participation in ecotourism leads to more favorable attitudes towards ecotourism projects. This dissertation examines these two seemingly disparate perspectives in the context of an ecotourism project. Three groups representing different levels of involvement with ecotourism are compared. The results support traditional tourism theory, suggesting fruitful opportunities for integration of research on conventional forms of tourism with research specific to ecotourism. Finally, a political ecology approach is adopted to reveal mutually reinforcing cycles of capital accumulation and impoverishment leading to environmental degradation in the region resulting from tourism development in the region, as originally described in the influential book Social Causes of Environmental Destruction in Latin America. While that work focuses primarily on agricultural activities, here recent ethnographic research on ecotourism in southwestern Nicaragua is contextualized within rapid tourism development in the region and examined through a political ecological lens to reveal how tourism is responsible for the same destructive cycles revealed above. Despite achieving certain on-site success, even ecotourism contributes to, if not enables, larger processes of environmental exploitation in the Nicaraguan context.
Hunt, Carter A. (2009). "We Are Even Poorer, But There Is More Work" An Ethnographic Analysis of Ecotourism in Nicaragua. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from