As Costa Rica competes for visitors with other global hot spots, one May event will be key.
EXPOTUR, organized annually by the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (ACOPROT), is bringing foreign travel agents and tour coordinators to the country tomorrow through May 18 to meet with representatives from local hotels, car companies, airlines and tour operators.
“It is the most important promotional event for Costa Rica, and it has been for 23 years,” said Patricia Duar, executive director of ACOPROT.
The main event, Tuesday through Thursday, will take place at the Ramada Plaza Herradura conference center in Cariari, northwest of San José. Some 260 local businesses (“vendors”) will set up stands at the event, which Duar expects to draw more than 100 travel companies (“buyers”) from the United States, Canada and South America.
In between browsing the stands, buyers hold a flurry of 15-minute meetings with different vendors to try to seal deals.
“You have everyone gathering in one spot, and that will be your chance to do business,” Duar said.
One challenge, she said, is getting vendors to follow through later if they don’t pin down a deal during the meeting.
“The seed is planted so you can do business, but if you don’t follow up, usually those efforts are lost,” she said.
The event includes social gatherings, including a cocktail party and speeches by Vice President Laura Chinchilla, Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides and ACOPROT President Carlos Lizama. Buyers will also attend a talk on how to sell Costa Rica to tourists at home, while vendors will hear a talk about medical tourism.
For the third consecutive year, the Fundación Corcovado will host Expoverde, an event to teach tour operators, hotel owners and others about earth-friendly products. In past years, Expoverde has featured electric golf carts and biodegradable bags, Duar said.
While Expoverde is open to the public, costs for the main EXPOTUR event are hefty.
Buyers pay $225 for one company representative, plus $75 for each additional person from the same company. Vendors pay $1,200 to $1,600, depending on when they sign up.
Before and after the main event, buyers can go on three-day trips organized by the Costa Rican Tour Operators Association.
Destinations include Caribbean beaches and the Caribbean-slope town of Turrialba.
A third trip takes buyers to the popular north-central Costa Rica destinations of Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. On a fourth tour, buyers can visit Playa Dominical and the Osa Pensinsula, in the Southern Zone. The trips are largely subsidized by gifts from hotels, transportation companies and restaurants looking to make a good impression.
Duar said it was harder to attract buyers to the show this year than last year because of competition with other tourist destinations and an economic slump in the United States. Mergers between tour operators have also reduced the number of potential buyers.
Duar said she and other EXPOTUR organizers spent much money, time and energy courting buyers – especially those who have never attended the event. Duar sent letters and follow-up notes to foreign businesses and networked at tourism events abroad.
Vendors, while still enthusiastic about the event, seem to be less so than in past years.
There was a waiting list in 2006 and 2007, but none this year.
For more information about the event, visit www.expotur.com.