San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ecuador tourism stunt featuring Costa Rica sparks international row

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but that’s not how Costa Rica took it.

Ecuador, looking to encourage its citizens to travel within their own country, carried out an elaborate ruse to convince a group of 40 tourists that they were taking a trip to Costa Rica.

After hiking, swimming and rafting, authorities revealed to the group that they had never left Ecuador.

The stunt carried out by the Ecuadorean airline Tame, Ecuador’s Tourism Ministry and Ministry of Transport and Public Works triggered a firm response from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), Casa Presidencial and the Foreign Ministry. They demanded Costa Rica’s likeness be removed from all materials and issued a letter of protest, according to a statement from the ministry.

A video documenting the ruse shows the unwitting tourists boarding a plane, taking off and flying a circuitous route to simulate the trip to Golfito, Costa Rica, a destination better known to Ticos for tax-free shopping than adventure tourism.

Once on the ground, tourists filled out fake immigration forms and passed through simulated customs, complete with ersatz entry stamps. Banners advertising Imperial beer and Costa Rica’s national brand, “Esencial Costa Rica,” were also posted around the airport.

The video shows the travelers swimming, whitewater rafting and even buying fake Costa Rican trinkets at the airport.

Road signs were altered to complete the illusion and organizers used cellphone and GPS jammers to keep passengers from using their phones to discover the hoax, the video shows.

At the end of the trip, the campaign organizers tore down an “Esencial Costa Rica” banner that had been posted at the airport to reveal the Ecuadorean tourism slogan: “love life.”

The organizers took the video off the web after Costa Rica complained. But the daily La Nación reposted it.

Costa Rica’s acting Foreign Minister Alejandro Solano expressed the government’s displeasure with the campaign on Sunday. The Ministry said Ecuador agreed to release an apology for the campaign gone awry.

“We’re unhappy about their use of our country to trick their people into getting to know their own country,” Tourism Minister Wilhelm von Breymann told The Tico Times Monday.

Von Breymann said that ICT and Procomer’s lawyers were looking into possible legal action over the misuse of Costa Rica’s national brand.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’ll harm Costa Rica’s image,” von Breymann said. “It wasn’t well executed, but it wasn’t offensive either,” he said.

Costa Rica has its own initiative, “Vamos a turistear,” to encourage more domestic tourism.

National Tourism Chamber President Pablo Abarca said it wasn’t worth getting worked up over an isolated incident. But he noted that there are other countries reaching for Costa Rica’s crown in tourism.

“What this advertisement proves is that there are important, aggressive levels [of competition] in the region, something that we have warned about before,” Abarca wrote The Tico Times in an email.

“The advantage is that they used Costa Rica as one of the most beautiful countries to visit. We’re very proud they used Costa Rica as an example where everyone wants to visit,” von Breymann said.

“It’s a sign that we’re doing things right.”

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If the CR Tourism Dept. had their wits about them they could turn this into an incredible PR coup. Simply contact the 40 non tourists and bring them to CR all expenses paid and make the incredible video of their time in CR. Lemons to Lemonade instead of sour grapes.

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A rather extraordinary ruse to make a point. Quirky yet clever and yes I agree…imitation is a form of flattery. Not worth getting all foamed at the mouth.

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Karolyn Ortega

Dan robberies happened not just in CR but in every other country, in fact, the corruption found within the police departments, as an example, makes traveling from one city to another city very dangerous in Ecuador. In terms of your “gringo prices” that’s only because of the “gringos” themselves, many American corporations, again as an example, have moved to CR bought the properties (in some case from farmers) and turned around and sold them for thousands/millions of dollars to expats and others alike. Please don’t get it twisted those prices are set by the corporations themselves who are predominately American/foreign owned. Last but not least, if you are coming to CR because is “cheap” than you haven’t done your research.

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Is it the corporations who come running to Costa Rica or is it the politicians who seek them out, ensuring that they take care of their “people”? How many politicians has Jorge Chavarria convicted on corruption charges? Don’t just blame multi-national corporations, they obviously need accomplices within. Just look at the collusion of banks, wall street, media, etc. with the USA government. Politicians have insulated themselves and their families, all while raping the rest of society. So don’t just blame the corporations, after all it is governments job to regulate them. Unfortunately there is not a government on this planet this is willing to do so. That is a political problem. If Ecuador, Nicaragua, etc. had the same relationship with the USA government over the years as Costa Rica has, then you can bet that their beautiful countries would be tourism magnates. But that is not how the politics have played out in recent decades. Costa Rica needs to get a grip on the organized crime that exists within its government. At this point, it is abundantly clear that will not happen as long as Jorge Chavarria is the Chief Prosecutor. Tell me again…what has Jorge Chavarria done with his investigative powers when it comes to government officials?If Jorge Chavarria does not convict rogue government officials, then how do you expect for the prosecutors that work under him throughout the country to honestly do their job? It won’t happen, and this is the exact reason Jorge Chavarria enjoys so much support from the prosecutors of the country. Crime and Corruption starts at that the top of each institution. President Solis simply has not done the house cleaning of corruption that he has promised. The murder that took place in Tamarindo needs to be solved. But because of the crime and corruption that exists in the office of OIJ Santa Cruz, it certainly will never happen. As usual authorities will let time fade it away. That is a very dangerous pattern that is emerging in Costa Rica. Lose tourism and you will severly hurt the citizens who depend on it. But the corrupt politicians and their families will be ok. You can bet they have their nest egg put away. If tourists do not feel safe here, then they will simply work with the State Department to ensure that all future visitors know of the potential dangers. What recently happened in Tamarindo to Barry Lawson needs a propper resolution.

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Dan Gibson

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with a lot of beautiful people — however — if Ecuador wanted to really disguise the trip as being in Costa Rica — the tourists would have been ”robbed” a couple times — ”charged an arm and a leg for ”insurance” for their rental cars” — ”charged the 50% more ”gringo” prices! Now that would have really had the tourists confused!

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Hachi Ko

Costa Rica is a wonderful place to live. That’s why I chose to live here! :)

I don’t know about being “robbed.” Anyone with a little common sense can avoid actually being robbed. The big problem with Costa Rica and tourists getting robbed is that Costa Rica is a “starter” country for beginner travelers from the USA who aren’t that travel-savvy yet.

On the other hand… Based on the rest of your post, maybe you just meant that people are getting “robbed” by the high prices. Well… I can’t argue with you on that point. Costa Rica has become a victim of its own success. It’s already the most “touristed” (I made that word up) country in the Americas, per square kilometer.

The days of cheap living in Costa Rica are long gone… At least, that is, if you want to live in San Rafael de Escazu and shop at Multiplaza.

My biggest fear is that Costa Rica will keep on heading the way it’s going, and become a “Monte Carlo” of sorts, and then I really WILL have to move to Ecuador.

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