Tourism Institute Turns 50

September 2, 2005

AFTER half a century of “progress and development,” the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) celebrated its 50th anniversary Tuesday as it pledged to continue to develop and strengthen the already large international tourism market in Costa Rica.“We want to take time to celebrate the fundamental role that the ICT has played in the development of… a distinct image of Costa Rica as a internationally recognizable and important tourist destination,” said Tourism Minister and ICT head Rodrigo Castro at a press conference regarding the milestone. “We hope to show our appreciation for the tourists’ contribution… and the contribution of those that work toward the development of tourism.”The ICT, a government agency founded to promote tourism in Costa Rica and facilitate the industry’s growth, had its first official meeting on Sept. 1, 1955, when foreign tourists numbered approximately 150,000 annually. That figure had reached more than 1.4 million last year, according to Castro. THOSE visitors brought Costa Rica $1.6 billion, or 9% of the gross domestic product. More than 500,000 of the country’s citizens were employed directly and indirectly by the tourism industry in 2004, according to Castro.Since its creation, the ICT has advocated state-sponsored public works projects to improve tourists’ experiences, maintaining close contact with private tourism enterprises while respecting the culture and environment of Costa Rica, Castro said.Inspired by the laws that established Costa Rica’s first national parks in the 1950s, the ICT took a leading role in lobbying for more national preserves along the coasts, mountains and volcanoes of the country to preserve the natural beauty of Costa Rica for its citizens and visitors.To better accommodate tourists flying in from other countries, the ICT was a key player in the drive to develop the General Cañas Highway that connects the Juan Santamaría International Airport with downtown San José.DESPITE the progress of the last 50 years, Castro pointed to challenges the ICT faces today, such as increasing investment in the hotel industry and other areas. The number of new hotels built nationwide fell short of ICT projections for demand in 2003 and 2004, sparking predictions that hotel rooms will become a limiting factor in Costa Rica’s tourism growth (TT, Jan. 7).“There is a huge demand for tourism services, a lack of supply and a small tax on tourism enterprises,” Castro said. “For these reasons, an investor can really take advantage.”Yet development doesn’t end with private investment, he added.“We’re working on more public projects that will help the development of tourism…such as the improvement of infrastructure, (tourism) employee training, and an increase of potable water,” said Castro. “(The tourism industry) can only go so far without investment and public works projects. We need to keep the rhythm of development.”

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