Costa Rica’s much anticipated – and delayed – milestone has finally arrived. This week, Tourist No. 2 Million entered the country, the first time annual visitation here has reached that number.
The arrival, initially predicted to be during the first week of December, occurred Wednesday and consisted of the Biedron family from the United States. Tourism officials gathered to welcome them at JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport as they got off their flight from New Jersey.
Last year, about 1.9 million tourists visited Costa Rica.
By comparison, Costa Rica’s regional competitor, Panama, received about 1.23 million tourists from January to October this year, according to Panama’s Tourism Authority.
Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides explained that Wednesday was chosen as a target date for the 2 millionth tourist after a team from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) ran calculations of this year’s trends.
A clearly pleased Benavides said the milestone was important for the nation.
“The arrival of the 2 millionth tourist marks a guideline that many other countries wish they could reach,” Benavides said. “This is a reflection of a job that we have done for many years. We have waited for about 10 years for the 2 millionth tourist to arrive in Costa Rica.”
The chosen family is made up of five children ranging in ages from 8 to 20 and is receiving free tours around Costa Rica by the travel agency in charge of their trip.
They said they plan to visit the Caribbean and Pacific coasts as well as the inland of the country. They plan to go zip-lining and surfing, see waterfalls and ride horses on the beach, among many other things.
“We plan to learn about your culture and visit a shaman as well,” said Mark Biedron, the father.
Families make up 25 percent of the visitors to Costa Rica. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. tourists who visit the country come with their families.
“The Biedrons represent the number one segment of visitors to Costa Rica: families,” Benavides said.
Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) research reveals that families that come to Costa Rica have a university level or higher education, have an annual income of more than $150,000 and come as a result of a family or a friend’s recommendation.
The Biedron family exemplifies many of those things, Benavides said.
The Biedrons own the WillowSchool, a primary school in New Jersey that impressed Costa Rican officials.
The school’s Web site says, “Students are taught to observe nature closely and carefully, so their artwork and writing are shaped by investigation.”
Benavides said the Biedrons’ commitment to sustainable teaching was one reason they were chosen as the country’s symbolic 2 millionth tourist.
Upon arrival, the Biedron family was presented with various gifts from tourism industry representatives present at the event.
The family, who was previously contacted before arriving in Costa Rica, was given boxes made out of recycled materials and handcrafted by women from the Sarapiquí area in north-central Costa Rica.
In addition, they were presented with watercolor paintings of Costa Rican landscapes from the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR) and Banco Nacional representatives.
Benavides added that tourism is expected to bring in $2.2 billion this year, which represents about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
News of the arrival of the 2 millionth tourist came at a time tourism numbers have dropped in the last few months, according to CANATUR.
A CANATUR survey of 86 hotel, travel agency, car rental and tour companies found hotel reservations have dropped, with 57 percent of the hotels reporting lower occupancy rates for September, October and November.
More than half of the companies reported a 24.5 percent drop in first-quarter reservations for 2009, compared with the same quarter of this year.