The Arenal Area Magazine

Tourist numbers reported up despite flat market


Tourist arrivals are up 9.6 percent for the first half of this year, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. However, most tourism operators are wondering where the visitors are.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo reported the country’s hotels had a 56.1 percent occupancy rate over the recent mid-year vacation.

Rates by regions ranged from 76.9 to 35.4 percent, said the chamber, based on its own survey.

The tourism institute put out a glowing report which predicted that the country will see more than 2 million tourists again this year. The institute release based that prediction by extrapolating from the 1,124,004 tourists who entered the country from January to June.

The tourism institute said that this number was 9.6 percent higher than the same months in 2009. However only 468,172 of the tourists in the first six months this year were from the United States, said the institute.

During the first half of the year, 767,194 tourists entered the country by air routes at either Juan Santamaría airport (635,800) or at Liberia’s Daniel Oduber airport (131,295), according to the institute’s interpretation of figures provided by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

Most of the tourists who entered the country by land routes were from neighboring Central American countries. Nicaraguans make up a substantial percentage of the annual tourism figures.

“Indicators show a definite recovery after the world economic crisis,” said Carlos Ricardo Benavides, tourism minister. “Although not quite the numbers seen in 2008, which was an extraordinary year for Costa Rica when it celebrated, for the first time, the arrival of 2 million tourists, there is an indisputable recovery that makes us optimistic to recover, little by little, from the crisis that is still present in this sector,” he added.

The institute said that U.S. visitors were 43,218 more in the first six months of 2010 than in the same period in 2009 and only 1,382 fewer than in 2008. There were 1,142,219 tourists in the first half of 2008, said the institute. That was the year the bottom dropped out of the tourism market due to the world economic situation. Still, Benavides orchestrated a ceremony at Juan Santamaría airport heralding a New Jersey family member as the 2 millionth tourist for that year.

Benavides served as tourism minister in the Óscar Arias Sánchez government, too.

Benavides was upbeat and said his agency’s goal is to welcome 2.5 million tourists in 2014.

The situation may not be as rosy as Benavides wishes. Windstar Cruises, for example, announced two-for-one fares Wednesday on winter Costa Rica and Panama Canal cruises. Windstar’s three luxury yachts visit Playas del Coco, Quepos, Bahia Drake, Curu and Isla Tortuga in Costa Rica. The Seattle, Washington-based company said its normal seven-day New Year’s cruise from Puerto Caldera would be $1,699 double occupancy. The current listed rate is $3,649 per person.

The trend is clearly to the Pacific beaches. The institute said that visitors passing through Daniel Oduber were up 18.6 percent in the first six months from the 110,717 in 2009.

In another point of view, the tourism chamber said that 44 percent of the tourists who arrived in July 2009 were from the United States. The chamber analyzed July from 2005 to 2009 because it is the month with the second highest number of U.S. visitors. March is the month typically with the highest.

The chamber noted that July is a big vacation month in the United States. Tourism operators here well know that the visitors here in the U.S. summers are not as well-heeled as those who come in the dry season at Christmas.

The mid-year vacation survey by the chamber obtained data from 90 hotels in all parts of the country. South Pacific hotels reported the highest occupancy rate at 65.4 percent. Southern Guanacaste was lowest with 36.4 percent.

Vacations can be deceptive because many Costa Ricans go to the beaches or elsewhere, but many end up staying with family members instead of renting a traditional hotel room. Hotels create many promotional offers to capture a share of national tourists.

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