Officials Prepare For Tourist Season Influx

December 17, 2004

WITH sunny, breezy weather usheringin Costa Rica’s December-Marchtourism high season, government officialssay they are implementing measures toensure the tourism sector continues togrow.Last week, Roberto Arguedas, Vice-Minister of Public Works and Transport,presented a plan to deal with problems atthe Juan Santamaría International Airportin the Central Valley and the DanielOduber International Airport in Liberia,capital of the northwestern province ofGuanacaste.Long lines and delays at both airportshave caused concern among tourism andbusiness leaders in recent months. TheCosta Rican Association of TourismProfessionals (ACOPROT) denouncedconditions at the Juan Santamaría airportin early October, while the NationalTourism Chamber (CANATUR) andGuanacaste Tourism Chamber (CATURGURA)denounced conditions the Liberiaairport, saying increased traffic during thehigh season would cause existingImmigration and Customs systems to“collapse” (TT, Oct. 8).It takes an average of 20-45 minutesfor arriving passengers to complete entryrequirements at Juan Santamaría, and aslong as 45-60 minutes during peak traveltimes. Tourism groups worry the increasein visitors from December-March willmake these wait times even longer (TT,Nov. 12).Arguedas said problems at the Liberiaairport, where the number of travelers isexpected to double in 2005 because ofnew flights, include insufficient Immigration,Public Security and Customs personnel;insufficient hours of operation;and a shortage of computers and otherequipment for baggage inspection.He said more staff members are beinghired, the airport has received donationsof computers from private businesses, andhours of operation have been expanded to6 a.m.-midnight.At the Juan Santamaría airport inAlajuela, northwest of San José, congestionat X-ray machines used to inspectbaggage and delays in paying exit taxesare among the major problems, he said,adding that action is being taken to hireadditional personnel for the machines andrearrange the equipment for greater efficiency.Also, tourists can pay the exit taxin advance before arriving at the airport,bank officials recently reminded tourists(TT, Dec. 3).Also last week Rodolfo Lizano, Vice-Minister of Tourism, presented an updateon the 10-year National TourismDevelopment Plan, implemented in 2002.He said the plan aimed for a 6.6%increase in international tourism by 2012for a total of 2.3 million visitors annually,and for a 1.8% increase in nationaltourism.The tourism sector has registered 15%growth this year, Lizano said, up from11.3% growth in 2003.“We are far above the world averagein growth, far above what we had projected,”he said. “It’s time we get our housein order.”To create such “order,” officials arecreating specific plans and goals for eachof the country’s tourism regions andempowering area tourism chambers tomeet those goals, as well as improvinginfrastructure and services to ensuretourists have a good experience in CostaRica, Arguedas added.He said regional goals have been completedfor seven of the 10 regions outlinedin the national plan.Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro saidone of the plan’s goals is to promotetourism that is “orderly and respectful ofour natural resources, our values and our culture.”

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