Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Price Responsiveness in the Developing Country Nature Tourism Context: Review and Costa Rican Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Price Responsiveness in the Developing Country Nature Tourism Context: Review and Costa Rican Case Study

Article excerpt


Although fees have been charged for access to US federal lands since Mount Rainier National Park imposed a visitor fee in 1908 (MacIntosh, 1984), recent legislative changes have expanded imposition of such fees, and there has been a concomitant research interest in the issue. However, the US is not alone in considering and implementing visitor fees. Many countries face similar, and often more extreme, pressures to charge visitor fees, and anecdotal evidence suggests that fees outside the US may be both more common and, in some countries, higher than in the US. Nonetheless, evaluations of international experience are uncommon in the recreation literature.

This article reports on this international experience, particularly that of developing countries; much of the material on this experience is found in the tourism and resource management literatures, and interested readers also are referred to these literatures for discussions of developed country experience outside the US (e.g., Van Sickle and Eagles, 1998). The present article begins with a discussion of similarities and differences in the pricing context and then focuses on a central issue in the field: How price responsive is visitation? Results from previous stated and revealed preference studies are presented, followed by results from econometric evaluation of actual price responsiveness using three Costa Rica national parks as case studies. The focus is on international visitation, as much of the attention with respect to fees for access to public lands in developing countries has been on fees for foreigners rather than for nationals. This implies a focus on tourism rather than recreation, but semantically the two are grouped together under the terms "visitor" and "visitation."

Similarities and Differences in Context

There are substantial variations with respect to legislative, policy, and cultural orientations across developing countries, as well as between developing countries and developed countries. The focus of this article is on differences in the resource management and recreation/tourism context between the US and many developing countries, with specific attention to how economic issues affect that context and, especially, how that context affects the economics of fees, particularly visitor responses to such fees. Laarman and Gregersen (1996) and Lindberg (1998) provide further discussion of pricing issues in the context of visitation at developing country natural areas.

Though the US is one of the world's richest countries, as measured by per capita gross domestic product (GDP), and has experienced a sustained period of economic growth, federal budget allocations have not been adequate to meet stated agency funding needs for providing recreation services on public lands. This lack of public funding is a driving force behind implementation of recreation fees. Similar, and more extreme, forces operate in most developing countries. For example, the 1995 US per capita GDP, at $26,980, was ten times that of Costa Rica, 96 times that of Kenya, and 135 times that of Nepal (World Bank, 1997) (unless otherwise noted, all monetary units are US dollars). This leads to commensurably greater pressures on public funding in developing countries. In addition, the US has a long history of governmental funding for management of public lands, while the establishment and funding of public lands such as national parks generally is a much more recent phenomenon in developing countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that the financial pressure to implement visitor fees is significant in many developing countries.

There is no international database that provides comprehensive information regarding use of fees, but anecdotal evidence indicates that they have been introduced and/or increased at many developing country natural areas during recent years. Responses to a survey of protected areas conducted in the early 1990s suggest that about one-half of the world's protected areas charge entrance fees (Giongo, Bosco-Nizeye, & Wallace, 1994). …

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