With its pristine beaches, vivid rain forests and active wildlife, Costa Rica is many a tourist’s dream of the perfect travel destination. Tourism has dominated the Costa Rican economy since 1999, when it surpassed agriculture as the nation’s largest economic sector.
But despite living in what some consider paradise, more and more Ticos are leaving the country to travel than ever before. From 2011-2012, the number of flights leaving Costa Rica increased by more than 1,000, and according to Leonel Bonilla, executive director of Costa Rica’s first-ever ExpoViajes travel fair, the demand is clear.
According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board and the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, 717,000 Costa Ricans traveled out of the country in 2011. The top two destinations for Ticos were Panama and the United States, respectively. More than 407,000 Ticos traveled to a destination in Central America last year, while almost 200,000 Costa Ricans chose North America.
“It is just human nature to want to see the world,” Bonilla said. “We live in a beautiful country but most people want to travel and see the world.”
Starting Friday, ExpoViajes will feature 96 businesses related to international travel. The expo will bring together airlines, travel agencies, international hotel chains, insurance companies, car-rental companies and other businesses to show off their offerings. Attendees also will have the opportunity to buy raffle tickets to fund their travels from banks at the expo.
“We want ExpoViajes to be a tool for people who want to travel to plan their vacation,” Bonilla said. “So many people think that traveling is too expensive or takes too much time; we want to show them that it is possible.”
In addition to the expo, the event will host presentations to help people plan their vacations. The U.S. Embassy will lead a discussion on what steps to take to visit the United States, and representatives from different travel destinations worldwide will give presentations on what their areas have to offer tourists.
The fair will be held at the Wyndham San José Herradura Hotel and Convention Center, three miles south of the Juan Santamaría International Airport. It opens to the public at 2 p.m. on Friday and will continue through Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
“We are expecting around 6,000 people at the event,” Bonilla said. “Our goal is that these people walk away educated about what all their options are.”