Representatives from Costa Rica’s five main political parties sparred during an economic roundtable organized by the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Real InterContinental in Escazú on Tuesday.
Antonio Álvarez Desanti, campaign chief for the ruling National Liberation Party, said the poor state of Costa Rica’s infrastructure, especially its roads, limits the country’s tourism potential.
“As long as we have these [infrastructure] conditions, we’re going to be holding back tourism in this country,” he said.
“We have places where tourists don’t go because rental car agencies don’t want their vehicles driving there,” he added, mentioning Monteverde, in the Tilarán Mountains in north-central Costa Rica, as an example.
Álvarez, a PLN candidate for San José lawmaker, said Costa Rica also must address its high cost of living for tourists as well as locals.
“We’re very proud of our natural wonders and colonial areas, but tourists count their costs,” Álvarez said, noting the high price of airplane flights and lodging here.
The PLN candidate said that an Araya administration would support a currency policy that keeps the U.S. dollar above the Costa Rican colón’s lower band limit so that foreign tourists’ dollars go farther here, making the country more attractive for visitors.
Libertarian Movement Party vice presidential candidate Thelmo Vargas agreed that infrastructure investment was key to keep Costa Rica as a top-tier tourist destination.
Vargas also lashed out at the Broad Front Party’s proposed tax increases on luxury properties, arguing that the taxes would be passed on to tourists staying at luxury resorts and make the country less attractive for foreign visitors.
Sergio Reuben, economic coordinator for the Broad Front Party, spoke broadly about protecting workers’ rights while also trying to attract foreign visitors, but did not offer specific policies.
“We support an international brand for Costa Rica that is ecologically stable and respects the rights of workers and human rights. We support a national brand that reflects our traditions of solidarity,” Reuben said.
The Costa Rican Tourism Board reported that a record-breaking 2.4 million tourists visited the Central American country in 2013.
Tourism accounted for 5 percent of Costa Rica’s gross domestic product, according to a September 2013 statement from the National Tourism Chamber.