Dear Tico Times:
Some of the industry comments cited in the recent article, “Are Costa Rican Tourism Board Numbers Inflated?” by Clayton R. Norman (TT, March 9), made me shake my head in disbelief.
As a person who has been part of the mixed committee that councils the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) from a tourism industry perspective on where to spend the ICT’s annual marketing budget, I assure you that the tourism minister and the ICT staff are very much aware of the shortcomings of these numbers, and are very aware that the 2.1-2.2 million entries in Costa Rica have little to do with the actual number of tourists visiting this country. The numbers cited come from the Immigration Administration.
As a hotel owner who has lived and worked here for 17 years, I know better than to trust these types of numbers. To blame the ICT for the demise of the hotel industry in Costa Rica is ridiculous. The problem is investors relying on the ICT to justify construction projects instead of doing their proper homework. How naïve to think that even the right amount of national tourism entries should be taken into consideration when trying to establish regional investment projects.
A feasibility study should be based on what local needs are in consultation with the Costa Rican Hotel Association’s regional analysis reports, the National Tourism Chamber, local chambers of commerce and local hotel owners, to determine current market conditions and outlooks. Most of this feedback would show that problems facing the tourism industry have little to nothing to do with the ICT, but rather with lack of infrastructure, insecurity, overfishing – which results in an 84 percent drop in game fish stocks – lack of ocean-rescue programs, lack of first responders in emergency situations, lack of zoning plans, prior lack of favorable interest and amortization rates, lack of experience in the hospitality industry and lack of local groups working together in the interest of the entire region. Stop the finger pointing and take a good look in the mirror!
My experiences – and those of some of our major local hotel operators – in dealing with ICT are nothing but positive. Of course, there will always be room for improvement, but my experience has been that the ICT staff is genuinely interested in what they are doing and are willing to listen to our suggestions.
The fact is hotel and residential development in most parts of the country has been out of control, and every Tom, Dick and Harry with a little cash to spare and – for the most part – no experience in the hotel industry were able to build a “retirement dream,” in some cases with catastrophic consequences resulting from below-average occupancies and unrealistic expectations.
Additionally, in the area of Manuel Antonio, Quepos and Matapalo in the Aguirre Canton, on the central Pacific coast, there are more than 140 rental houses competing unfairly with the mostly small hotels, inns and legal guesthouses. Only 12 of these houses are properly registered with the municipality, and only two more are in process of obtaining the proper paperwork. House rentals in our area rent for as much as $15,000 a week with little to no benefits contributed to our local causes, increasing our local tax base and allowing us to take care of infrastructure programs, school programs or the police department.
Where suite rentals were once a flourishing business in some of our more upscale hotels, nowadays people opt for “less expensive,” non-registered rental houses that are not subject to the same oversight as the hotel industry, including dealing with underage prostitution. This practice has been an additional downfall for some of our local hotels, and rather than uniting our efforts to counter these illegalities and addressing the local woes, some of us blame the ICT for inflating numbers without really focusing where we should be focusing our efforts. This, of course, is much easier than sharing some of the blame, taking responsibility for inaction or being afraid to step on some local toes.
President, Chamber of Commerce,
Industry And Tourism, Canton de Aguirre