San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sustainable Tourism May be Antidote to Crisis

Tourism in Costa Rica continues to slump in 2009, but perhaps local businesses can take solace in knowing their struggles are shared by others throughout the world.

World tourism fell by 8 percent from January through April, compared to the same period in 2008, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports. Travel destinations throughout the world hosted 247 million tourists during the first four months of the year, down from 269 million in 2008.

Of five world regions – Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East – Africa was the only region that saw an increase in tourism, reporting a growth of 3.1 percent.

A multitude of factors account for the global travel slowdown, including increased unemployment, exchange rate fluctuations, reductions in airline capacity and concerns about the influenza A(H1N1) virus.

Costa Rica reported a 12 percent drop in the number of tourists during the first quarter of 2009, compared to the first quarter of last year, according to the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR).

Although the new figures are worrisome for this country’s tourism sector and economy, Taleb Rifai, deputy secretary general of UNWTO, said implementation of sustainable tourism practices should help limit further declines.

“The situation is worldwide,” said Rifai in a June interview with the daily La Nación. “However, Costa Rica is in a better situation than the other countries. The development of sustainable tourism is becoming an alternative that will help to better confront the crisis.”

In an earlier interview with The Tico Times (TT, May 29), Ronald Sanabría, vice president of sustainable tourism for the Rainforest Alliance, concurred for Rifai’s assertion. He said that “despite the fact that the slowdown in the economy is eating up specific industries, the trend toward the more environmentally conscientious consumer is still growing.”

Sustainable tourism, as defined by the UNWTO, refers to environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development. It says that sustainable tourism efforts are geared toward limiting environmental impact, conserving biodiversity and ecological processes, upholding the traditions of the host communities and fairly distributing the economic benefits among involved parties.

In contrast to the drop in tourism in Costa Rica, other Central American nations – Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama – saw increases in the numbers of tourists over the first four months of this year, according to UNWTO.

The increase in tourism in these nations is attributed to Central American travelers vacationing within the region.

The UNWTO predicts the decline in world tourism will level out over the remainder of the year, with the overall annual decrease predicted to be 4 to 6 percent.

–Adam Williams


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