Despite a sputtering U.S. economy and concerns over runaway development in the region, the northwestern province of Guanacaste continues to put up record tourism numbers.
Tourist arrivals at the DanielOduberInternationalAirport in Liberia, Guanacaste’s principal tourism hub, rose 13% in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2007, according to a marketing study commissioned by the Guanacaste Tourism Chamber (CATURGUA).
From January through March, the peak of the tourism high season, 156,028 tourists came through the airport, CATURGUA reported, citing numbers from the CivilAviation Authority. Tourism begins to drop off after March, as the country enters its rainy season, and doesn’t come back up again until December.
Tourism Minister Carlos Ricardo Benavides highlighted the good reputation Costa Rica appears to be enjoying among the visitors to Guanacaste.
“That 96% say that they are going to recommend us seems to me a fantastic product, considering that the majority of people who arrive in this country do because it was recommended by a friend or family member,” Benavides said. “It’s not all destinations in the world where people tend to come, or return again, with the frequency that you see in Costa Rica.”
According to the CATURGUA study, carried out by the marketing firm C&D Consultores, an increasing percentage of tourists are return visitors. Of those interviewed, 48% had already been to Costa Rica on a prior trip, up from 36% during the 2007 high season and 28% during the 2006 high season.
The research firm, which interviewed 300 passengers at the Liberia airport, found that nearly three in four (74%) came from the United States and the rest (26%) came from Canada. A few Europeans were also among those interviewed, but amounted to less than 1%, said Ronald Carvajal, the general director of C&D.
The DanielOduberInternationalAirport receives direct flights from the United States and Canada, with occasional charters from England.
With U.S. citizens making up such a large percentage of tourism in Guanacaste – and the rest of Costa Rica where they represent 54 % of last year’s 1.9 million tourists – U.S. economic woes are of particular importance to the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), which Benavides oversees.
“The global factors that affect the arrival of visitors have been very altered by the United States’ economic situation, so we believe it is appropriate to forecast a sustained growth of 5% this year,” Benavides told The Tico Times.
However, as this year’s figures show, Costa Rica’s tourism seems to be unaffected so far. According to the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR), JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport, the country’s largest, recorded similar tourism growth. Arrivals there grew by 14% in the first three months of this year, with a total of 358,705 between January and March.
“Even though we are facing a special situation in the United States market, our principal market, we still have yet to see any negative effects,” said María Amalia Revelo, deputy manager and director of marketing for the ICT.
Despite the sunny statistics, the ICT is taking precautions. The institute has hired an international marketing firm to closely monitor the United States and is “redoubling” its marketing efforts, Revelo said.
Thanks to a huge hike in ICT’s budget this year that takes it from $8 million to $14 million, the agency will be able to increase its marketing in other countries while also increasing its efforts in the U.S.
Revelo said the ICT is also trying to “diversify” its markets, attempting to bring more direct flights to Costa Rica from nations outside North America.
“The markets that are most important for us in Latin America are Argentina, Chile and Brazil, but as of last week we have the possibility of a charter flight from Ecuador.”
The ICT marketing manager said she expects to have an agreement by next week that would see regular charter flights leaving Ecuador’s capital of Quito, stopping in the city of Guayaquil and then flying directly to Liberia. According to Revelo, the flight would come to Costa Rica 16 times a year, flying only during July, August, November and December.
Who Are These Tourists?
87% university educated
91% stayed only in Guanacaste
70% stayed in a hotel, most in an all-inclusive
96% went to the beach
66% visited a national park
59% said roads need improvement
$2,251 was the average each spent
Source: Guanacaste Tourism Chamber.