San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Semana Santa Business Keeps Hotels Afloat

For those mired in gridlock on the freeways leaving San José, the mass exodus of vacationers heading to the beach for Semana Santa, or Easter week, can often be a frustrating sight. But for the Costa Rica’s tourism sector, struggling to stay afloat in the midst of an economic slowdown, the sight during this year’s Semana Santa was a welcome one.

Earlier this month, many tourism outlets said they expected sales to be down compared to last year’s Easter week (TT, April 3), which, according to several persons interviewed this week, proved to be the case. Still, hospitality services are reporting that enough travelers hit the road to buoy struggling businesses and even fill some hotels during the week’s busiest days.

Leda Ruiz, who is in charge of sales and marketing for Hotel Amapola in Jacó, on the Central Pacific, said occupancy at the hotel had ranged between 30 and 40 percent between January and March. On April 9 and 10, the Thursday and Friday preceeding Easter, however, the hotel filled all of its rooms.

“It was good,” Ruiz said, but, “There have not been many people” the rest of the year, she added.

Many outlets have turned to package deals and discounts to attract travelers in the tough economy. Hotel Amapola had offered special rates of $79 per night, which Ruiz said helped boost sales.

Amapola is also targeting Costa Rica nationals and residents as the number of tourists arriving from abroad slows down.

“We intend to stay afloat,” Ruiz said.

In Manuel Antonio, farther south, “The beach was packed like every year,” said Richard Lemire, president of the Aguirre Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.

“The hotels felt a little bit the economic slowdown,” he said, “but between 1,500 and 1,800 people visited (ManuelAntonioNational Park) every day.”

Lemire, who runs a vacation rental business called Manuel Antonio Estates, said rentals were down slightly to 80 percent occupancy, from 100 percent last year.

“Those are still good numbers,” he said.

“It was one of our best weeks of the year.”

Since the economic slowdown first started affecting the tourism industry earlier this year, tourism outlets have reported a rise in last-minute reservations (TT, Feb. 6), and Easter week appeared to be no exception. Tourists are still traveling, Lemire said, but are spending less money, taking fewer tours and are visiting only two or three locations instead of the average five or six.

While the beach is traditionally the top destination for Easter week, other locations in the country saw a boost in travel as well.

“We had a very busy week, and saw a lot of people in La Fortuna,” said Daisy Williams of Desafio Adventure Company, in north-central Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano, who said business was up even compared with last year’s Easter week.

For business hotels that usually see a slow Easter week, however, this year was even slower. The Real InterContinental Hotel and Club Tower in San José, which usually caters to business travelers, offered a special three-day, two-night fare for $229 that saw “a little” success, said revenue manager Juliette Dussaud.

Easter week “is always very low, and this year was lower,” Dussaud said. “But this is never a big week for business.”

–Patrick Fitzgerald


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