Airports Outdated, Tourism Groups Say

October 8, 2004

WITH the peak travel season quickly approaching,tourism groups in Costa Rica are urging the governmentto do something about the strained infrastructure at thecountry’s two most important airports, Juan SantamaríaInternational Airport in San José and Daniel OduberQuirós International Airport in Liberia, in the northwesternGuanacaste province.The Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals(ACOPROT) has alerted government officialsabout Juan Santamaría Airport’s inability to handleincreasing numbers of passengers during the upcominghigh season, which begins in November.The Guanacaste Tourism Chamber (CATURGUA), with support from the National TourismChamber (CANATUR), last weekexpressed concern about the lack of sufficientnumbers of employees at theLiberia airport to handle the expectedweekly increase of incoming flights from13 to 34 by Dec.15.LIBERIA airport manager AnaliveRosales has asked for support from the government,stressing that in the near future theairport will receive six flights on Saturdays,causing “chaos” at the facilities if steps arenot taken to accommodate the growth.Giancarlo Pucci, executive director ofCATURGUA, pointed out that the infrastructureof the Liberia terminal is the sameas it was in 1995, when the airport wasopened. Meanwhile, just in the past year,the number of passengers who use the airporthas increased 100% from 90,000 in2003 to a projected 180,000 this year.Pucci estimated that at least 28 newairport workers are needed at the Liberiaairport to deal with the coming season.MEANWHILE, in San José, debatecontinues between government and airportofficials over the management contract (TT,Aug. 20) and who is responsible for repairingthe infrastructure at Juan Santamaría —although it is likely too late to solve all problemsfor the upcoming high season, accordingto the daily newspaper Al Día.The airport management company,Alterra Partners, has prepared a plan for thegovernment with suggestions on how toavoid lengthy projected wait times expectedto begin in November when the country’stourism high season kicks into gear.Proposals include incorporating thetax levied to leave the country into airlinetickets, subjecting Costa Rican citizensand their baggage to more lenient checksand possibly even checking less baggagealtogether, according to Al Día.ROBERTO Morales, general managerof ACOPROT, told The Tico Times thegovernment needs to take more action topreserve an industry that is so vital toCosta Rica’s economy.“Authorities need to be better preparedfor the high season. Passengers need toexit the airport in a better disposition fortourism,” he said.Morales said he hopes that by December,officials at Juan Santamaría will beable to prevent a situation where arrivingpassengers have to wait three hours to exitthe airport.This would increase chances touristsleave the airport with a bearable if notpleasant experience, as they venture off toenjoy Costa Rica, he said.ALTHOUGH changes to increasecapabilities at Juan Santamaría will not befinished for at least 10 months, a best-caseprognosis projects that immediate changescould reduce wait times to less than onehour, which is the average during the lowseason, said Morales.An estimated 2.7 million passengerswill use the Juan Santamaría airport thisyear, up 16% from the total 2.1 millionwho used it in 2003, according to GabrielaRodríguez, a spokeswoman for AlterraPartners Costa Rica.Morales said problems at JuanSantamaría first occur when passengers exitthe plane.THE airport has five buses to move passengersfrom remote terminals to Customsand Immigration. Three buses are needed tocarry one flight of 106 passengers.“In the event more than one flightlands at the same time, passengers on oneof the planes must sit on the plane an extra15 minutes for the buses to unload theother flight. The amount of buses in use issimply not enough to handle the volume ofpassengers entering,” Morales said.During the peak season, ten principlecarriers will make 300 flights per weekinto Juan Santamaría, Morales said.After exiting the bus, arriving travelersfind themselves at Immigration where theyfilter through lines and eventually arrive atone of 12 windows that rarely ever are allin service, Morales said.Because of the lack of Immigrationofficials, a bottleneck at immigration cancause lines to back up to where passengersboarding and unloading come together.THE key to fixing the probleminvolves providing more service, saidMorales.“Ideally, in the future, there will be 16windows that will be fully utilized andoperational,” he said.Morales also suggested acquiringupdated, faster computer equipment tospeed things up once passengers make it tothe windows.And finally, given that waiting is partof the process, more chairs for people to siton might help cushion the experience,Morales added.

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