THIS year’s edition of the “Costa RicaTravel Mart,” known as EXPOTUR –which, as in previous years, filled theHotel Herradura, west of San José, withbuyers, sellers and colorful stands – wascharacterized by an unusually high numberof first-time participants and a focus onsustainable marine tourism.The fair, which is organized each yearby the Costa Rican Association of TourismProfessionals (ACOPROT), brings togethertourism professionals from throughoutthe Americas, Europe and Asia. This year,276 businesses participated as buyers –83% from the United States and Canada –and 210 as sellers, most from Costa Rica.Besides the trade show, which endedyesterday, the 21st edition of the eventincluded pre- and post-tours of populartourist destinations around the country, andseminars on educational tourism and marinetourism. Participants in the latter signed acode of conduct for marine conservation.APPROXIMATELY 20% of sellersand 41% of buyers at this year’s EXPOTURwere new to the event, according to astatement from ACOPROT. RobertoMorales, the association’s general manager,said these percentages were larger thanin previous years and bode well for thedynamism of Costa Rica’s tourism sector.“There’s a certain enthusiasm (amongnew participants),” he told The TicoTimes. “What EXPOTUR seeks to do eachyear is search for new products, to maintainCosta Rica’s leadership.”First-time seller Mauricio Penagos –who produces Folclor de Exportación, aseries of albums of Costa Rican musicdesigned for hotels, stores and travel agencies– said he felt the event was successful.“The number of people and the qualityhave been impressive,” he said.Negotiations during the trade show arethe main attraction of EXPOTUR, butACOPROT also seeks to increase industryconsciousness about environmental andsocial issues, Morales said. That’s why, in2002, the event generated the Code ofTourism Conduct Regarding the SexualExploitation of Children and Adolescents.“Before, business owners didn’t knowhow to attack the problem,” Morales said.The World Tourism Organization (WTO)had a code, but EXPOTUR participants“tropicalized” it, he said, adapting it toCosta Rica’s and specific needs.This year’s Code of ResponsibleConduct for Marine Tourism, while very differentin content, has the same goal of promotingstricter industry standards, he said.REPRESENTATIVES of 81 businessessigned the code following presentationsby marine conservation organizationsMarViva and Fundación ProMar.The document opposes practices suchas using motorized vehicles on beaches orusing excessive light at hotels near thebeach.Even seemingly harmless activitiessuch as swimming with dolphins damageanimals, according to Morales. While thepractice does not harm dolphins directly, itreduces their natural fear of humans, whichmakes them vulnerable to future peril.He said it is possible that this code, likethe 2002 code against sexual exploitation,may eventually be used as a selling pointby businesses that comply with its requirements,but added that Central Americantourism in general suffers from an excessof different certifications and names – ecotourism,rural tourism, rural communityecotourism and so forth.SELLERS at this year’s EXPOTURincluded hotels, airlines, tour operators,rental-car companies and national tourismchambers from Central American countries.Two of the largest and most colorfulbooths were those of the Guatemalan andNicaraguan tourism boards.Carolina Briones, of the NicaraguanTourism Institute (INTUR), said EXPOTURis “very important for Nicaragua. Ithas strengthened our relationships withbuyers in the United States.”According to ACOPROT, last year’s fairgenerated contracts equivalent to more than$180 million.The Costa Rican economy also benefitedfrom approximately $65,000 visitorspaid for lodging, food and airlinetickets.