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June 23rd, 2006
I have been saying for some time that the government’s sunny reports of Costa Rica tourism have not seemed to match up with the reality of what we who live here are seeing.
We now have a new government headed by Oscar Arias, and with the new government, we get new cabinet ministers. The new Tourism Minister, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, is finally admitting what everyone has been noticing for some time. Tourism is declining.
Benavides blamed the tourism decline on the horrendous condition of the roads here, security issues (read that as crime), inefficient and time consuming approvals that face potential investors. Bingo! Right on target!
One thing I guess I knew, but didn’t think was happening, is that while tourism brings in about 1.6 million visitors each year, only about a third are from North America. Many are “visitors” from Nicaragua are classified as tourists. This is, of course, silly. The vast majority of “Nicaraguan Tourists” are housekeepers, and laborers. They spend just enough while living here to survive, sending the rest back to family in Nicaragua. To count these individuals as tourists is really stupid, and worse, it is misleading sending the incorrect information and message to Costa Rica’s leaders and decisiopn makers.
Further, though I am not sure how much this skews the tourism data, there are a supposedly a “significant” number of North Americans, the well known perpetual tourists, who renew their tourism visa four time a year by leaving the country for 72 hours. I know these folks exist, but to think their affect on a tourism number of 1.6 million seems wrong.
Sadly, Sr. Benavides did, in my opinion, get something 100% wrong.
He tended to downplay the ever rising costs of tourism here in CR. The competition for the tourism dollar is fierce, and everyone today is looking for value. Costa Rica is difficult to reach and expensive to get to before the vacation starts. Rising gasoline prices make airline travel today a rich man’s game. Costa Rica was riding the light with ever increasing tourism up until last year, but clearly, this is changing. I cannot blame the hotels, B&B’s and restaurants for upping the ante to share in the bonanza, but now it is time to re-think that strategy. Hotels are empty and that is not good. Maria and I went to Arenal recently to find a 40% occupancy during semana santa, the Easter holidays! Unheard of! Also, the prices at Arenal were astromical.
It would be one thing if tourists arrived to find a spotlessly clean Costa Rica, free of crime and easy to navigate, but alas, they find none of these. The prior Pacheco administration allowed Costa Rica to decline and now, the piper must be paid.
In any case, perhaps the words of Sr. Benavides will have an affect on the Casa Amarilla. Arias is an enormously intelligent and dynamic leader with a world view, and for sure his vision of Costa Rica now and in the future is far broader than his predecessor.Filed under Costa Rica, Immigration & Residency, Life in Costa Rica, Politics, Travel | Comments (4)