Costa Rica’s premier international tourism fair celebrates an important birthday this year. Expotur 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the annual event, set to take place May 13 to 17 at the Ramada Plaza Herradura Hotel in Ciudad Cariari, west of San José.
The event, which brings together national tourism companies and international wholesale buyers, has been a staple of Costa Rica’s tourism image for the past quarter century. And despite an economic downturn that has hurt tourism numbers nationwide, officials are expecting a successful outcome this year.
Expotur began in 1985 as a way to put Cost Rica on the international tourism map. Inspired by frequent visits to world fairs in other countries, national tourism agencies felt an event of their own could prove Costa Rica as worthy a destination as any other.
“We realized we could put on a great show, too,” said Patricia Duar, executive director of the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (ACOPROT). “If you build it, they will come.”
Duar pointed out that 30 years ago most international tour operators didn’t even know where Costa Rica was, and many people confused it with Puerto Rico, believing it an island in the Caribbean. She said she would ask interested clients, “You know where the Panama Canal is?” and then explain, “Well, we are up north.”
The first Expotur attracted about 130 national companies, or vendors, who marketed their products to international travel agents, or buyers. Of those original vendors, 15 continue to attend the expo today.
Over the years, Expotur has grown to attract more than 300 vendors and 200 international buyers from an average of 15 different countries. This year, in celebration of its 25 years of operation, the event anticipates receiving 250 buyers from at least 25 different countries, including several – India, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine among them – new to the fair.
The idea of “new” for this year’s fair doesn’t stop with buyers. Expotur officials are hoping at least 40 percent of the vendors at this year’s event will be new companies.
In response to the global economic downturn, ACOPROT introduced some strategic perks this year to make the fair attractive to all participants. The 15 vendors who have been loyal to the fair since its inception received a waiver for the normal $1,300 registration fee. Additionally, ACOPROT provided free tickets to several international buyers and offered the businesses free room and board.
To make this year’s fair more accessible, ACOPROT will organize vendors by industry on the conference room floor. For the first time, attendees will be able to walk through rows of kiosks and cubicles and find groups of companies offering rural tourism, eco-friendly tourism, educational tourism and medical tourism.
“We are promoting these specific products this year,” Duar said. “We have organized things so you can identify them easily.”
Additionally, the event will be open to the public for the first time in more than 10 years. During the final weekend of the fair – May 16 from noon to 5 p.m. and May 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – visitors will be welcome to check out the array of tourism deals and destinations. Though no admission fee will be charged, Expotur encourages attendees to make donations, which will be used to plant trees around the country as part of the government’s carbon-neutrality initiative.
For information about the event, visit www.expotur.com.