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Does Tourism Eco-Certification Pay? Costa Rica’s Blue Flag Program


  • Blackman, Allen

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Naranjo, María Angélica
  • Robalino, Juan
  • Alpízar, Francisco
  • Rivera, Jorge


Tourism associated with beaches, protected areas, and other natural resources often has serious environmental impacts. The problem is especially acute in developing countries, where nature-based tourism is increasingly important and environmental regulation is typically weak. Eco-certification programs—voluntary initiatives certifying that tourism operators meet defined environmental standards—promise to help address this problem by creating a private-sector system of inducements, monitoring, and enforcement. But to do that, they must provide incentives for tourism operators to participate, such as price premiums and more customers. Rigorous evidence on such benefits is virtually nonexistent. To help fill this gap, we use detailed panel data to analyze the effects of the Blue Flag Program, a leading international eco-certification program, in Costa Rica, where nature-based tourism has caused significant environmental damage. We use new hotel investment to proxy for private benefits, and fixed effects and propensity score matching to control for self-selection bias. We find that past Blue Flag certification has a statistically and economically significant effect on new hotel investment, particularly in luxury hotels. Our results suggest that certification has spurred the construction of 12 to 19 additional hotels per year in our regression samples. These findings provide some of the first evidence that eco-certification can generate private benefits for tourism operators in developing countries and therefore has the potential to improve their environmental performance.

Suggested Citation

  • Blackman, Allen & Naranjo, María Angélica & Robalino, Juan & Alpízar, Francisco & Rivera, Jorge, 2012. "Does Tourism Eco-Certification Pay? Costa Rica’s Blue Flag Program," Discussion Papers dp-12-50, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-12-50

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    Cited by:

    1. Mora-Rivera, Jorge & Cerón-Monroy, Hazael & García-Mora, Fernando, 2019. "The impact of remittances on domestic tourism in Mexico," Annals of Tourism Research, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 36-52.
    2. Francisco J. André & Jorge A. Valenciano-Salazar, 2020. "Becoming Carbon Neutral in Costa Rica to Be More Sustainable: An AHP Approach," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(2), pages 1-18, January.
    3. Ki-Hoon Lee & Minwoo Lee & Nuwan Gunarathne, 2019. "Do green awards and certifications matter? Consumers’ perceptions, green behavioral intentions, and economic implications for the hotel industry: A Sri Lankan perspective," Tourism Economics, , vol. 25(4), pages 593-612, June.
    4. Cristina Bernini & Augusto Cerqua, 2020. "Are eco‐labels good for the local economy?," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(3), pages 645-661, June.
    5. Bernini, Cristina & Cerqua, Augusto, 2019. "Do sustainability policies finance local economies?," MPRA Paper 91882, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. S. Capacci & A. E. Scorcu & L. Vici, 2014. "Eco labels and tourism flows: How much is a Blue Flag worth?," Working Papers wp917, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    7. Stephan Grapentin & Maureen Ayikoru, 2019. "Destination Assessment and Certification: Challenges and Opportunities," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(13), pages 1-24, July.
    8. Figen SEVINÇ & Tülay GÜZEL, 2017. "Sustainable Yacht Tourism Practices," Management and Marketing Journal, University of Craiova, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, vol. 0(1), pages 61-76, May.
    9. Guillaume Gruère, 2015. "An Analysis of the Growth in Environmental Labelling and Information Schemes," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 38(1), pages 1-18, March.
    10. Marola, Elena & Schöpfner, Judith & Gallemore, Caleb & Jespersen, Kristjan, 2020. "The bandwidth problem in telecoupled systems governance: Certifying sustainable winemaking in Australia and Chile," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 171(C).
    11. Broad, Robin & Cavanagh, John, 2015. "Poorer Countries and the Environment: Friends or Foes?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 419-431.
    12. Jennifer Kunz & Stephanie May & Holger J. Schmidt, 2020. "Sustainable luxury: current status and perspectives for future research," Business Research, Springer;German Academic Association for Business Research, vol. 13(2), pages 541-601, July.
    13. Lucrezi, Serena & Saayman, Melville & Van der Merwe, Peet, 2015. "Managing beaches and beachgoers: Lessons from and for the Blue Flag award," Tourism Management, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 211-230.
    14. Litzow, Erin L. & Pattanayak, Subhrendu K. & Thinley, Tshering, 2019. "Returns to rural electrification: Evidence from Bhutan," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 75-96.
    15. Hampton, Mark P. & Jeyacheya, Julia, 2015. "Power, Ownership and Tourism in Small Islands: Evidence from Indonesia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 481-495.

    More about this item


    Costa Rica; eco-certification; propensity score matching; tourism;

    JEL classification:

    • Q13 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Markets and Marketing; Cooperatives; Agribusiness
    • Q20 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - General
    • Q26 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Recreational Aspects of Natural Resources
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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