San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tourism Board Puts Positive Spin on 2008

The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) is painting 2008 as a good year, despite job losses and a downturn in visitation during the last quarter.

The tourism industry in Costa Rica is expected to bring in about $2 billion to the economy this year, about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. This year’s tourism receipts are expected to be about $273 million more than in 2007.

However, with gains come losses. Although about 400,000 direct and indirect jobs were reported in the tourism sector this year, the latest numbers indicate a sharp decrease in a market heavily dependent on the United States, which is at the epicenter of an international financial crisis.

A recent poll by the Union of Private- Sector Chambers and Associations (UCCAEP) found employment in the tourism sector during the last quarter of 2008 dropped 10 percent over the third quarter of the year.

The tourism board is focusing on keeping and increasing business with foreign air carriers, which would ultimately bring jobs as well as tourists to the country. Last month, ICT reported the addition of another airline setting up business in Costa Rica. Jet Blue Airline will begin flights from Orlando to San José in March of next year.

The number of people who arrived to Costa Rica this year by plane grew 4.5 percent, or 200,000, over 2007.

Copa and Taca airlines announced this year their plans to increase flights and new routes from Costa Rica to international destinations.

“In a time when airlines are moving away or closing down operations, Costa Rica is keeping airlines, increasing flights and routes,” said Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides. “That’s a good sign for us.”

In addition, the ICT has been ramping up its international advertising in recent months while revealing new plans for next year’s operations.

Allan Flores, general director of ICT, said his office’s foreign advertising budget for 2009 is $20 million, which is $6 million more than this year’s budget.

ICT spent $1.8 million in marketing throughout the United States and Canada this year, in addition to more than $300, 000 in online advertising.

The campaign consisted of advertising on public buses, telephone booths, and hand dryers, Benavides said.

“The publicity on hand dryers, for example, would entice those in cold climates to enjoy the warmth in Costa Rica,” he said.

Another facet deals with improving security for those potential visitors. In 2008, officials said, crimes against tourists fell 8 percent. Crime overall, however, appears to be on the increase in Costa Rica.

Benavides said the drop in crime was possible thanks to the addition of 250 tourist police in areas such as La Fortuna in the northern region, Puntarenas on the central Pacific, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean and in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

The ICT’s annual report notes the capture this year of 10 criminal gangs who targeted tourists. Benavides cited the north region, the Central Pacific and San José as the areas with the most tourist-related crimes.

ICT plans to also open next year eight new offices throughout the country.

These offices would provide tourist information to visitors as well as technical assistance for the sector and the local municipalities where the offices are located.

There are also about 10 marina projects in the works where the ICT plans to invest.


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