San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Former ICT head takes Tourism Ministry helm

Allan Flores is no stranger to Costa Rican tourism. The former head of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) took the helm of the Tourism Ministry last month for the second time, having previously served as tourism minister in late 2009 when his predecessor, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, left to join President Laura Chinchilla’s election campaign. Now, he steps into the position again, after Benavides was tapped for  the top cabinet position following the resignation of former Minister of the Presidency Marco Vargas (TT, April 8).

Yadyra Simón, president of the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (Acoprot), said the Chinchilla administration couldn’t have picked a better replacement for Benavides.

“He is a very accessible person with extensive knowledge of the ICT and the needs of tour operators,” she said in a statement. “I am sure that the projects and initiatives we have talked about will be followed through on.”

“Allan Flores is a professional who knows the importance of tourism and who gained experience in this role when he stood in for Carlos Ricardo Benavides in 2009,” Juan Carlos Ramos, president of the National Tourism Chamber (Canatur), said. “We are confident Flores will continue working toward the same goals outlined at the beginning of this administration.”

In just two days on the job, Flores had already outlined a laundry list of tasks to be accomplished, including completing the first government-operated convention center, attracting more international airlines and lobbying for improvements to the country’s infrastructure.

“We are developing strategies for the innovation of new products and to differentiate the tourist zones,” he told the daily La Nación. “Not only do we want [tourists] to stay more days, but we also want them to return and recommend the country to their friends and relatives.”

As head of the ICT since 2006, Flores, 44, helped negotiate foreign investment in tourism and launched an aggressive advertising campaign in select U.S. cities.

In 2003, he served as president of the Environment Tribunal, leaving that post to serve as vice minister of the environment and energy between 2003 and 2006, during the same time he served as vice president of the board of directors for the state oil refinery, RECOPE.

After being appointed head of the ICT in 2006, Flores worked toward mitigating the effect of the global recession on the local tourism market, which saw an 8 percent drop in visitors between 2009 and 2010 and a 14 percent decline in per-traveler expenditures.

Costa Rica depends on tourism for 7 percent of its gross domestic product, which puts it at 60th out of 180 countries in relative importance of tourism to the health of the economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, an international organization of travel industry executives promoting travel and tourism worldwide.

The small Central American nation has strategic features – it’s recognized worldwide as a center for medical tourism and a destination for green travel – that help buffer it against more severe tourism losses, Flores said.

“I am optimistic,” he told La Nación about the country’s future in tourism. “I see the sector improving, but we have to continue working at improving what we can and maximizing the potential we have.”

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