Want more tourists in Costa Rica? Paint buses in New York City and San Francisco.
It is one of the gimmicks the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) is pitching in its marketing strategy designed to attract more tourists from 2008-2010, especially from the United States.
A 2008 budget increase of $14 million will fuel the new initiatives.
“We are being proactive and not reactive” to increase tourism, said María Amalia Revelo, ICT’s deputy manager and director of marketing.
Beyond giving facelifts to public transportation, the board also plans to use Bluetooth technology to transmit rain forest sounds to pedestrians’ cell phones and introduce interactive maps of Costa Rica in key U.S. cities.
The efforts are part of ICT’s plan to reinforce a still-buoyant tourism market. Last year, the country pulled in $1.9 million from surf and turf seekers. This year looks promising as well, with 17 percent growth in the first quarter over the same period last year.
Revelo said the new “sustainable” marketing plan focuses on what she called Costa Rica’s two major strengths: its environment and its people.
“Every time, our goal is really to surround ourselves in the topic of sustainability,”Revelo said. “As a country and as a (tourism) sector, that is our biggest challenge.”
Meeting that challenge requires improving education, infrastructure and security nationwide, said Tourism Minister Carlos Ricardo Benavides.
“In reality, Costa Rica is a country that, for tourists, continues to be very safe,” said Benavides, citing statistics marking a 15 percent decrease in crimes committed against tourists in the past six months.
Revelo added that the Blue Flag program and certification of tourist establishments would also help the country promote sustainable tourism.
ICT hopes to expand the country’s appeal to Europe, Asia and other Latin American countries – especially Mexico, whose people are attracted to Costa Rica’s natural bounty and adventure tourism, Revelo said.
The new strategy focuses on bringing “unknown” parts of the country – such as the Southern Zone, Caribbean side and the BallenaNationalMarinePark – into the sightseeing mix.
To pump up the slow months of May, September and October Revelo said ICT plans to pitch Costa Rica as the perfect honeymoon, extreme sports and family vacation destination.
National tourists are included in the plan as well. Revelo said rural attractions and national events could bolster tourism.
Despite rosy projections for a booming tourist industry, Benavides and Revelo could not avoid discussing how rising oil prices and a flirting recession in the United States could put a damper on projections.
U.S. citizens comprise the greatest number of tourists visiting the country.
Although Benavides said he would like to see more than a 5 percent increase, as projected, in tourist numbers for 2008, “We have to be cautious.”
The minister presented his “glass halffull” perspective, saying U.S. citizens find airfare to Costa Rica and the exchange rate much easier on the wallet than a trip to Europe.
To Attract More Tourists
• Issue information packets to travel agencies around the world
• Improve Web site to facilitate online searches
• Create attractive package deals and increase flights to country • Paint buses in New York City and San Francisco with tourism ads
• Use Bluetooth technology to transmit sounds of Costa Rica to pedestrians’ cell phones
• Advertise in magazines commonly read by travelers