Tourism on the up and up for 2010!
Costa Rica’s tourist industry felt the knock-on effect of the US financial crisis with a fall in the number of visitors to the country to 2.29 million in 2009; a drop of 0.22 million from 2008’s peak figures. The repercussions of fears surrounding the H1N1 virus (swine flu) in Costa Rica is also a factor considered responsible for the drop in visitor numbers. Predictions for 2010 and beyond, however, should have the industry sighing with relief. After a year of belt-tightening, the expected increase in tourists arriving in the country this year and the forecast of that increase reaching a highpoint of 3.5 million visitors by 2014 show healthy trade predictions, especially from 2006’s figures of 2.06 million.
A number of continuing developments in Costa Rica’s infrastructure and tourist resorts have led to this confident forecast. The expansion and planned increases in the near future to Guancaste’s Daniel Oduber Quirόs International Airport allow visitors to fly directly into one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist regions without having to land in San José and travel for several hours by road. This is especially popular and advantageous for many North American holiday-makers and property owners along this part of the Pacific Coast, as it is possible to come for a short trip or even long weekend. When Canadians and Americans are two of the top three visiting nationalities to Costa Rica the advantage of opening the Liberia airport to International flights is even clearer. Nicaraguan visitors make up the third major visiting group. The tourist industry sees high numbers of tourists arriving from Costa Rica’s other neighbor, Panama and from Mexico. There is a fair percentage of Spanish tourists arriving in the country too and this can be expected to increase as charter flights from European destinations are expected to be increased this year. President Oscar Arias’ has worked to fulfill his promise to residents of the Limón canton by improving the historic but shabby port town of Limon and in doing so, bringing interest to the area. There are various projects planned along the relatively undeveloped coastline with positive indications of its success coming from the decision by two luxury cruise lines to schedule Limon into their itinerary and the construction of the Veragua Centre on the San Jose/Limon highway. Limon had cause for celebration in 2009 when the Transat Jacques Vabre Sailboat Race finished in the port with many visitors drawn to the dockside to view the sailboats and other events put on, such as live music and additional celebrations in the city itself. The race is scheduled to finish in Limon in 2011, 2013 and 2015, providing the city with further tourist opportunity.
Data from 2008 shows that income from tourism made up 7.8% of Costa Rica’s GDP and that the tourist industry provided almost three percent of the total employment in the country in 2006. However, the GDP contribution is expected to decline to 4.6% in 2014. Government expenditure on tourism dropped in 2009 from what had been an annual increase of 4% with spending estimated at US$27.9 million in comparison to the previous year’s $29.7 million. Predictions suggest that expenditure will steadily increase until it reaches $35.5 million in 2014. A proposed tax could soon replace the current 3% hotel tax, which does not cover condominiums or private rental properties, with a $15 blanket tax on all airfares for incoming flights.