Costa Rican tourism authorities are working to rebuild the Central American country’s tourist trade in part by welcoming those who are uneasy about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic to a country that has taken numerous steps to safeguard people against the illness and pointing out that the types of tourism experiences the country is synonymous with adds another measure of security during these days of concern about social distancing.
Tourism minister Gustavo Segura Sancho told a recent webinar on the future of Costa Rica‘s travel industry that Costa Rica saw its first case of coronavirus in March — a month in which it closed its international borders — but it was several months before the “transmission phase” surfaced, giving authorities plenty of time to implement “very strict protocols” aimed at protecting visitors and locals alike.
Among safety measures are international airports only allowing employees and travellers to enter, having sanitizing stations and temperature checks, and insisting on social distancing and users wearing masks.
Other steps the country has taken include the creation of a team of over 30 people who conduct “surprise inspection visits” of tourism companies, making sure they’re complying with guidelines designed to protect clients and employees.
Segura Sancho said “people are taking the protocols seriously” in a country in which tourism is hugely important to the economy.
The country began a gradual reopening to international visitors this summer, with Segura Sancho saying 20 of the 27 international airlines that included Costa Rica in their networks prior to the pandemic either have returned or detailed plans to. Air Canada has restarted service to Liberia and San Jose from Toronto and restarted Montreal service this week. WestJet is resuming Liberia service on Dec. 19. Air Transat and Sunwing plan to return to Costa Rica in February.
The country hosted 36,000 foreign tourists in November and expects 50,000 this month, well below the usual numbers but nonetheless figures Segura Sancho said demonstrate that “there’s light at the end of the tunnel… 2021 is going to be a year of slow and steady recovery.”
Meanwhile, Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels president Javier Pacheco said 90% of Costa Rican hotels reopened before the end of November. Among precautions hotels have taken include limiting the number of people in hotel restaurants at any one time to 50% of the restaurant’s capacity. Hotel guests are asked to wear masks in most areas, although they don’t have to in restaurants, or by swimming pools or on beaches.
Rodrigo Valverde, president of the Costa Rica Adventure Association, in turn told the webinar adventure travel firms have adopted the likes of having people wear masks and frequent sanitizing.
“Everything is very… normal right now,” he said. “The same protocols we have in airports and hotels is applied in adventure tourism right now.”
Costa Rica — which has set aside 26% of its landscape from development — first made its mark in international tourism through eco-tourism and adventure travel.
Adventure association treasurerJohana Arguello said those working in Costa Rica’s adventure tourism trade are part of an industry that has always dealt with safety protocols, so it’s coping with the new ones resulting from coronavirus in stride.
She said the small group outdoors experiences that have always been a mainstay of Costa Rican tourism are less likely to see transmission of the virus than other types of tourism
“Feel free to be in the outdoors, like always,” she said.
The number of international travellers from Canada to Costa Rica is set to grow from 233,143 in 2019 to 360,344 in 2024, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1%, says GlobalData a leading data and analytics company.
The company’s latest report, ‘Source Market Insight: Canada (2020)’, reveals that the country’s year-round warm climate, an abundance of direct flights between the two nations, and extensive beaches will continue to increase international visitation from Canada, which is set to become the fastest growing destination for Canadians in the Americas region.
Gus Gardner, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “With a variety of direct flight options available from regional airports across Canada, Costa Rica is a very accessible market for Canadians. The country has a wealth of attractions to offer tourists from simple beachside locations to conservation areas, which means the country is well equipped to cater for all traveler types within the Canadian source market.”
GlobalData found that a key reason for outbound travel from Canada is relaxing on a sun and beach holiday. Costa Rica has an abundance of beaches, which will allow the country to capitalize on this growing trend among Canadian travellers who seek to relax by the sea on their holiday. As the country looks to recover from the impact of COVID-19, Canada could become an increasingly important source market.
Costa Rica is striving to become an eco-tourism destination and seeks to be the first carbon-neutral country by 2100. This plays well to the 37% of Canadians who said they are interested in and would actively buy products that are better for the environment*.
Gardner adds: “The country’s focus on eco-tourism could encourage more tourists from Canada to visit. With the COVID-19 pandemic shining a light on the negative impact humans are creating upon the environment, it is likely more consumers will make a more environmentally conscious decision when it comes to their next holiday destination and Costa Rica is well-placed to benefit from this.”
* Data taken from GlobalData’s Consumer Survey of 701 Canadians