San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

University Programs Educate Tourism Professionals

NATURAL history II, geography ofCosta Rica, hotel accounting systems, conferenceorganization – these are just ahandful of the courses rooting the country’seffort to guarantee Costa Rica remainsfirmly planted on the tourism map.Just as tourism started booming here inthe 1980s, so too did university programsto educate future hotel managers and travelagency directors. Since then, a solid coreof bachelor’s, licenciatura (one step abovea bachelor’s) and master’s-degree programshas emerged at various public andprivate universities.Some programs have evolved beyondeducating guides and restaurateurs toinclude studies on the condition of tourismin Costa Rica as a whole.“Tourism needs to be managed, not justin terms of finances, but in terms of naturalresources, determining how much thecountry can offer,” explained GiovanniArsieta, coordinator of the University ofCosta Rica’s (UCR) Guanacaste campustourism program (666-0357).PLANNING and managing naturalresources with respect to tourism is a fundamentalaspect of the program’s bachelor’sdegree in ecological tourism andlicenciatura degree in ecotourism management,Arsieta said.This means students not only learn howto balance tourism and conservation butalso how science can be part of tourism.Beyond general studies, students takeclasses in natural sciences, languages,geography and alternative tourism.When students graduate, they are preparedto work in the general tourism market,but more than that, they have the abilityto do things such as analyze a proposedtourism complex for its impact on the environment,Arsieta said.“Tourism in Costa Rica can’t keepgrowing like it has been; we are going tosee a depletion of our resources,” he said.“So we can’t just talk about the foreigncurrency that comes into the country withtourism; we have to look at the entire bill,at the impact… evaluate, plan and manage.If we don’t, we will lose it all.”ALONG these same lines, UCR’s centralcampus in San José also offers a master’sdegree in environmental managementand ecotourism.A similar course of study is offered inthe University for International Cooperation(UCI) (234-7340,’s-degree program in sustainabletourism management.“Sustainability means current generationscan create an activity – related to theeconomy, tourism or anything – withoutdamaging the environment or the socialculture,” explained program coordinatorMarcela Carre.Because it offers “virtual classes”online and requires only periodic in-personvisits, the university boasts students fromaround the globe, including the UnitedStates, Israel and Chile.It also boasts an impressive studentbody within Costa Rica, including nationalpark directors, employees of the Ministry ofEnvironment and Energy (MINAE), directorsof tourism agencies and biologists.“This year, we also have a leader froman indigenous group in Peru who wants tohelp his tribe create a sustainable tourismproject,” Carre said.The program is particularly focusedthis year on creating sustainable tourismprograms in Chirripó National Park insouthern Costa Rica and Patagonia insouthern Chile and Argentina.“We work in an integral way, workingwith schools in a protected area and withcommunity members,” Carre said.A number of more traditional programsare also offered, such as the bachelor’sdegree in tourism with an emphasis onhotels and restaurants at Universidad Latina(UL) (224-1920, the moment students begin thetwo-and-a-half-year program at UL, theybegin getting the kind of practical educationthat will place them in mid-managementtourism positions after graduation,said program director Katia Ortega.“We work hand in hand with the productivesector to create a balance betweentheory and practice,” she said.The school has agreements with varioushotels and restaurants to facilitate theseinternships.In between working in the field, studentstake classes in general administration,marketing applied to the tourism sector,statistics and Costa Rican geography.“Our intention is that our students arebilingual when they are done, in Englishand Spanish,” added Ortega.Classes in languages besides Englishare not offered, though tourism leadersin the country have voiced concern recentlythat tourism professionals shouldbe multilingual to better interact with thegrowing number of European tourists.THE tourism program at the InternationalUniversity of the Americas (UIA)(233-4342, in San José’sBarrio Aranjuez allows its bachelor’sdegreecandidates to focus on either ecotourism,hotels and restaurants, or travelagencies.Students can choose more than oneemphasis. The school also offers a licenciaturadegree.The program was started in 1986.Experience over the past 19 years hasallowed the school to become a stable constantin the tourism community, accordingto director Rubén Madriz.While being grounded in a time-testedcurriculum of classes, students are alsorequired to take at least 10 trips around thecountry to study tourism, work 320 hours inan internship, and present a research project.“The internships allow our students tohave contact with the reality of tourism inCosta Rica, and to learn what the actualsituation is in the country,” Madriz said.OTHER universities with tourism programsinclude: Universidad Nacional’sChorotega campus in Nicoya (686-6500,, which offers a bachelor’sin business management for sustainabletourism; the University of Tourism (291-2874), offering hotel and food-and-beverageadministration programs; and StateUniversity at a Distance (UNED) (527-2000,, which has plansto offer a program soon.

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