Tourism Appears Unscathed in Monteverde

March 18, 2005

IN Santa Elena de Monteverde, amountain community in north-centralCosta Rica where most of the populationmakes its living from tourism, it did nottake long for residents to begin worryingabout how last week’s tragic bank holdupwould affect their primary industry.However, most visitors and officialsseem to agree that long-term effects on theregion’s tourism will likely be minimal.Marvin Hidalgo president of theMonteverde Chamber of Tourism, toldThe Tico Times this week that the town’shotels lost a significant portion of theirbusiness during the event itself, with 50%of guests in some hotels leaving or cancelingtheir reservations.THIS week, however, was “a normalweek – typical for the high season,” withmany hotels at close to 100% occupancyover the weekend, he said.He added that the violence, whichkilled nine and injured 17 (TT, March 11),was confined to one block in downtownSanta Elena and most tourist facilities,located out of town on the road to theMonteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, werenot affected.The official reaction from the CostaRican Tourism Institute (ICT) emphasizedthe tragedy is an isolated event that couldhave happened anywhere.“Events like these, and even more serious,occur daily around the world, becauseit deals with human problems, more than theproblems of a country or a region,” said astatement from the institute.TOURISTS who were in town duringthe holdup, many of whom were confinedto their hotels for part of the more than 28-hour standoff, had mixed reactions to theevent, as the split opinions of MichelleAmador, 24, and her three traveling companions,all from Los Angeles, California,demonstrate.“I will never come back,” Amador saidlast week. “I felt trapped. I never want tosee this place again.However, her companions, KarlaTorres, Joe Magallanes and Sal Pineda,said they saw the bank holdup as an isolatedincident, and that it would not preventthem from making a return visit.Randal Smith, owner of the PensionSanta Elena, next to the bank, said heexpects most tourists to take the latter view.“My guests can see past the tragedy,”he said. “I would expect to see a dip intourism, a bit, but most of our guests… seeit in a much broader context.”LAURA Rodríguez, daughter of theowner of the Tucan Pensión andRestaurant, in sight of the bank, agreed. “Iam sure (tourism) will go down a little, butsince tourists forget, I’m sure they willcome back,” she said.For some, the impact of the tragedy onMonteverde’s future in tourism dependson whether news of the hostage situationreaches the international media – and isnoticed by its audience.Smith pointed out that news of thehostage situation had already reached theBBC and CNN by last Thursday morning.Hildalgo, of the tourism chamber, saidhe expects a slight dip in reservationsmade in advance from the United Statesand other countries, where some reportsimplied the attack was part of a generalsecurity problem in Monteverde.While Hidalgo strongly denied such aclaim, he said the chamber is working withthe Public Security Ministry to makeimprovements in the area’s security,including an increased number of policeofficers, more police vehicles and a largerpolice station.The chamber has also requested that theSocial Security System (Caja) provide additionalmedical personnel so that 24-hourmedical attention is available in SantaElena.(Tico Times reporter Robert Goodier contributedto this report.)

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