San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hotel and restaurant owners showcase goods at 2012 Expo

From the print edition

This week the Pedregal Events Center in San Antonio de Belén in Heredia, north of San José, filled with booths showcasing luxury hotel and restaurant goods with exhibitors hoping to rub shoulders with their customers, and maybe, ink a few new deals.

They call it Exphore, or Expo Hotels and Restaurants.

“We have more than 200 exhibitors, 250 booths with new technology, new products and new services for the hotel and restaurant industry,” said Exphore Director Karl Hempel.

Shirley Ugalde, editor of Apetito magazine, which helped organize the event, said about 1,000 visitors showed up to Exphore on Tuesday, the opening day.

The massive Pedregal Events Center was crammed with booths hawking everything from beer and wine and specialty foods to furniture and bathroom fixtures. Booth visitors – mostly hotel and restaurant owners and managers – had the opportunity to observe the Regional Culinary Cup, a regional competition featuring teams of more than 60 professional chefs from 11 countries across the region that ran throughout the three days of Exphore.

Hampel said the competition is an opportunity to develop a culture of gastronomy in Costa Rica. The country hosted the Culinary Cup of the Americas in 2011.

Besides the Culinary Cup, Exphore also featured three days of the Reto Barrista, a coffee-preparation competition featuring six barristas working to pull the perfect cup of joe.

In order to gauge the state of the hotel and restaurant industry before this week’s event, organizers surveyed 50 businesses in the sector about perceptions of the tourism industry in Costa Rica.

The survey touched on different aspects of the service industry in Costa Rica. Some 80 percent of hotel operators surveyed and 78 percent of restaurant operators reported positive feelings about Costa Rica’s recently passed anti-smoking law.

About 85 percent of restaurant operators said they expected 2013 to be a better year for the sector than 2012. Most hotel operators, about 72 percent, indicated similarly positive outlooks, with about 15 percent of both hotel and restaurant operators expecting 2013 to turn out about the same as 2012. Only 12 percent of hotel operators and zero percent of restaurant operators projected a worse year in 2013.

Restaurant operators were not particularly concerned about competition from new restaurants, according to the survey. About 19 percent responded that new offers in the market had stimulated the sector, roughly half those surveyed indicated that more competition had had little effect on their sales and 27 percent responded that more competition had adversely affected their business.

In terms of technology, 68 percent of the businesses surveyed indicated that they considered investing in new technology to promote sustainability “very important” to their businesses.

The survey also queried hotel and restaurant operators on the work of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT). The ICT has fielded criticism lately from the small-scale tourism business sector, but businesses contacted in the Exphore survey showed mixed responses. A slight majority of 32 percent responded that the ICT had done a “regular” job of managing tourism in Costa Rica; 24 percent responded with “very good”; 28 percent responded “good”; and 16 percent of the businesses categorized the ICT’s work as “bad.”

Exphore organizers released the results of the survey at a press conference on June 14.

Bernard Perraud, owner of Corbe Gourmet, a distributor of French wines, manned a table full of open wine bottles on Tuesday night. He said Corbe Gourmet comes to Exphore every year.

“We are always here,” Perraud said. “We can meet our customers and they can try our different wines. Many people stopped by here today. It has already been a successful day.”

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