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Costa Rica Tourism Down – Finally, They Admit it.

June 23rd, 2006

x.jpgI 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.


4 Responses to “Costa Rica Tourism Down – Finally, They Admit it.”

  1. Matt on August 17, 2006 10:56 pm

    Just found the website. Thanks.
    I was in CR in June 06 and I found the roads to be fine for a third world country. I’ve been in cities in the US (Detroit, Tacoma) where the roads were worse, however – navagation was IMPOSSIBLE. If I hadn’t been visiting an Ex-Pat friend I would have never found anything. He was constantly asking people for directions to tourist spots, and he’s lived there for years.
    Crime is a HUGE problem. My friend was robbed at gunpoint about 2 weeks before I was there while walking in his fairly nice neighborhood. I’m cosidering moving there myself, but safety is a real concern.

  2. Jim on August 29, 2006 8:21 pm

    We are like many boomers I think, that is, well traveled,looking for options outside of the packed, overpriced US retirement spots. The quest has taken us to C.R. for the second time in two years. The change in that short time has included improvements in the roads, and signs of growth that we have not seen in any ca country. In our travels within C.R. we have also seen all prices increase year on year. We plan to make additional trips and extended stays.

  3. Leslie on May 8, 2008 2:21 am

    To Matt:

    I’ve been living in Costa Rica, near San Jose, for over a month now and been witness to no criminal activity so far, other than people running red-lights. I’ve been out at night in sketchy areas, near (and inside) strip clubs, etc, and nothing scary has come across my path. I am hopeful that my experience continues to be as such.

    Not saying that crime doesn’t EXIST here or something, but just that it’s unfortunate that your friend experienced that. I lived in California for almost a decade and had multiple friends who were mugged at gunpoint at some time during their residency there.

    Crime is everywhere.

  4. peter casie chetty on April 13, 2009 7:18 pm

    Capitalism has proved to be the bane of the earth. If eco tourism has to succeed we are best off living naturally and not comercialising everything that we see around us. Capitalism has failed and only parts of the globalised economy have worked. the bison, wolves, tigers elephants, rhinos are living proof of how commercialising pores,tusks and teeth or claws of animals has done so much of harm. Hunting for sport should be banned. If the US wants its gun culture let them be free to murder each other. Central and South America should not follow the capitalist route not should any of the other developing contries.

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