Costa Rica can be sold through photos, Web sites and glossy pamphlets, or it can sell itself. Allowing it to do the latter is the idea of EXPOTUR, which will return to the country for the 22nd year May 14-21.
Hundreds of travel agents and tour coordinators from around the globe will flock to Costa Rica for the event, visiting popular and undiscovered attractions, meeting with hotels and tour companies and discovering what the country has to offer. Meanwhile, local companies will have the opportunity to sell their services around the globe without leaving the country.
The event, organized by the Costa Rican Association of Professionals in Tourism (ACOPROT), will take place at the Hotel Herradura conference center in Cariari, northwest of San José.
“EXPOTUR has contributed enormously to the growth of tourism in Costa Rica,” said ACOPROT president Patricia Duar, who has worked in the tourism industry for 30 years, including various positions at the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).
Before EXPOTUR started in 1984, ICT’s only way of getting the word out about Costa Rica was visiting conventions and travel agencies in the United States and Europe, Duar explained.
“Sometimes we even had to explain where Central America was, that it was not the middle of the United States, the area above Texas,” she said. “Plus, back then, Central America had its problems and we didn’t know how to sell Costa Rica.”
Tourism leaders decided it would be best to bring people here so they could see with their own eyes what the country has to offer.
That idea continues today. The conference begins and ends with various multi-day tours to destinations around the country. Tamarindo beach, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste; the southern Caribbean coast; and the jungle area of Sarapiquí, in north central Costa Rica, are among the pre-conference tours on offer this year. A one-day tour is also offered to the Los Juncos Cloud Forest in Coronado, northeast of San José.
After the conference, visitors are invited to travel to the central Pacific beaches of Jacó and Manuel Antonio; the southern Pacific beach of Dominical; the La Fortuna area near Arenal Volcano, in north-central Costa Rica; the coffee town of San Ramón, northwest of San José; or Irazú and Orosi volcanoes, in the Central Valley.
The tours cost a nominal $25, with hotels, transportation and tour operators donating the majority of the costs so that those new to the country can get a glimpse of what it has to offer.
While these tours offer visitors a firsthand look at Costa Rica, the main event happens in between them. For two days, Costa Rican, Panamanian, Nicaraguan and Guatemalan vendors – from hotels to adventure tour operators to airlines – will meet with buyers from around the world, primarily travel planners and tour operators. One-on-one meetings allow the two sectors to make the kind of large-scale deals that can make a company’s year a success.
Approximately 280 vendors are expected to fill 260 stands, and 200 buying companies are expected to attend, Duar said. Of the buyers, about 40% are expected to be new to the event; of the vendors, approximately 13% will be new.
In addition, EXPOTUR features a day and a half of seminars directed at Costa Rican businesses about the latest developments in the tourism industry.
Duar hopes that EXPOTUR will continue to grow and eventually become the most important tourism trade show in Latin America. To this end, every year ACOPROT tries to offer something new.
This year, EXPOTUR will feature Expo-Verde, in which various sustainable products produced in Costa Rica will be on display May 17-18. The products will be directed at the tourism industry and will include, for example, swimming pool cleaners that don’t use chemicals and environmentally friendly air conditioners, Duar said. The event, being organized by Fundación Corcovado, will also provide information to hotel owners and tour operators about the value of making their companies more sustainable.
In addition, the United States Tour Operators Association’s annual meeting is taking place in Costa Rica this year and will coincide with EXPOTUR. While they have their own activities scheduled, the meeting’s attendees, who represent 10 million travelers annually, will participate in EXPOTUR events as well.
“This is their first time in Costa Rica, and it is a very important event,” Duar said. Despite annual innovation, the lack of a convention center in Costa Rica makes it hard for EXPOTUR to grow, Duar said. Regardless, ACOPROT takes care that the event does not lose its intimacy, evident in the one-on-one meetings.
For buyers, the cost of participating is $225 for one representative per company, $200 each for two representatives or $175 each for three representatives. For sellers, the cost is $1,000-1,600. Prices may be financed.
When it first started, EXPOTUR was free to nearly all involved, though when this was the case people did not value its worth, Duar said. Some businesses have complained that the high costs are not worth the results.
Duar admits that companies wishing to participate incur other costs, such as printing brochures, getting a hotel room (though special rates are offered) and leaving the businesses behind. But she says studies have shown it to be worth the investment.
“A company in Limón (a Caribbean port city) can share its information with people from the United States, Europe and Latin America at a relatively low cost,” she said. “It is a unique opportunity.”
Duar stresses that showing up at EXPOTUR isn’t enough; companies have to visit each other and provide something new every year.
“You have to have something new to interest the buyers,” she said.