San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tourism numbers in 2011 show strong finish

The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) released its end-of-the-year numbers for 2011 last week, and the figures were encouraging.

Approximately 2.2 million tourists visited Costa Rica in 2011, an increase of 4 percent from 2010 numbers, ICT reported. New advertising campaigns, new flights to the soon-to-be-opened airport terminal in Liberia, development of sustainable tourism programs and plans for a new national convention center are all key aspects of ICT’s 2010-2016 National Sustainable Tourism Plan, which aims to increase tourist visits to the country 5 percent annually over 2010 numbers.

“We face a world stage full of challenges that push us to accept the challenge and continue to innovate,” said Tourism Minister Allan Flores in a statement issued by ICT. “Because the tourism products and services that characterize our . . . resilience, the creativity of entrepreneurs, and sustainable development of tourism are what have  allowed Costa Rica to compete in international markets and consolidate its position; but this should motivate us to work hard and remain vigilant.”

In 2011, ICT reported, there were about 2.9 million available seats on flights to Costa Rica – the brunt of those, about 2.5 million, went into Juan Santamaría International Airport outside San José, while Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia accounted for about 343,000 seats. Several new flights also started flying to Liberia, capital of the northwestern Guanacaste province, in 2011. Jet Blue started offering four New York-Liberia flights a week in November. Air Berlin now offers Berlin-Liberia routes once every two weeks, and Frontier Airlines opened a Denver-Liberia flight in January.

2011 also saw a new ICT advertising campaign that turned some heads. “Costa Rica’s Million Dollar Gift of Happiness,” a campaign launched in October and aimed at North American travellers, featured what may be Costa Rica’s new superstar mascot – a talking sloth. The campaign, which offered $1 million in Costa Rica vacation packages to 40 winners to date who followed the campaign on Twitter and other social media sites, is credited with drastically shifting the demographics of ICT’s Twitter followers. 

According to the board’s report, prior to the sloth’s campaign, 54 percent of ICT’s Twitter followers were Costa Ricans. After launching the campaign, however, the board saw those numbers shift, and now 77 percent of followers are from the United States, Costa Rica’s principal market for tourists.

Sustainable tourism is one of ICT’s major concerns, and in 2011, the board issued 59 new sustainable tourism certificates (CSTs) to businesses that have worked to reduce their environmental impact and develop socially and ecologically responsible business models. Under the 2011-2016 Sustainable Tourism Plan, ICT aims to certify at least 500 tourism businesses as CST businesses. That includes hotels as well as tour operators. The board said it hopes to have approximately 60 percent of all hotel rooms offered in the country certified under the CST program by 2016.

Finally, the tourism board announced that construction on a new national convention center is slated to kick off near the end of 2013.

The convention center, the board reported, will “catapult national tourism growth and compete in the niche for congresses, conventions and world fairs.”

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