You were appointed Minister of Tourism for Costa Rica halfway through last year, under especially complex circumstances for the industry, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Could you summarise for us what your main lines of work have been since then?
Without a doubt, the priority is to maintain Costa Rica’s position in the world as a top-notch tourism destination, highlighting our leadership in sustainability.
However, when I took over the job in July 2020, the first immediate action was to plan and implement the reopening of airports, sea ports and land borders for international tourism, gradually and safely. We have successfully achieved this. We must understand that Health is not just a lack of illness, and in order for the survival of the destination, of the tourism companies and the social progress that tourism has generated in Costa Rica over four decades, it was not feasible to extend this closure indefinitely. I also set myself the goal to reopen all tourism services and activities, and we also achieved it.
On the other hand, I work closely with multiple government officials, chambers of commerce and private companies on actions to bring economic help to tourism companies, with the the aim for as many as possible of them to survive the consequences of the pandemic. We are talking about draft laws, actions by commercial banks for the tourism sector, innovative steps to lower costs for restaurants and hotels, campaigns to promote national tourism, which has responded by showing its solidarity, among others.
My firm intention is to work intensely in order to bring back and reactivate tourism, a sector that is very important for the Costa Rican economy, and this requires working together and a perspective of the whole country.
What new actions are you planning to implement this year to accelerate the recovery of tourism in Costa Rica and to boost its contribution to the country’s economy?
Costa Rica has remained in contact with its main outbound markets (USA, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands) and the Costa Rica brand is still strong and healthy in the tourism industry, with evident strengths to face the pandemic: it can be visited at any time of the year, it offers multiple outdoor activities, without crowding, safely and in compliances with strict bio-safety protocols implemented by all of the tourism sub-sectors.
We have maintained strategies to showcase the country as a sanctuary of sustainability, a destination that allows one to live life's essential values and we face the challenge of maintaining the brand's presence with a very reduced budget for 2021.
During the closure in 2020 and in early January of this year, we received 85 travel agents from Europe and 44 from the United States; they toured the country, they verified the implementation of health protocols and, thanks to them, we have been featured in international publications that highlight our compliance.
As an additional boost for the destination, we are about to launch a campaign to attract digital nomads, to which end the Legislative Assembly is discussing a specific draft law to attract international remote workers and service providers. The idea is to give them benefits such as a residence permit in the country for one year, extendible for another year. They would not be charged income tax and they would be allowed to bring in the equipment they need without having to pay import taxes.
After we opened the borders to international tourism, we recovered 30% of the usual visitors, a milestone compared to other tourism giants, who are not even close to this percentage. Our expectation is that our participation at FITUR 2021 will contribute to the country ending 2021 maintaining or improving this 30% of visitors compared to 2019.
We must remain in the minds of travellers so that when the time comes for more confidence and more possibilities for tourism, they will come to our country and feel like they are just another local.
What segments and tourism attractions of Costa Rica would you highlight at FITUR?
We are a destination characterised by peace, nature, sustainability, solidarity, hospitality, wellbeing; commitment to the environment, a wide range of adventure options, as well as a good value/quality ratio. Our accommodation offer is sufficiently varied and is distributed throughout all the tourism regions of the country.
We must point out that Costa Rica has positioned itself as the best alternative for travelling in current times. We are the “sustainable tourism sanctuary” par excellence, year-round, with no PCR test requirements and with numerous air connections with Europe. We offer multiple choices in natural and open spaces: from wellness, adventure, wildlife viewing, nature and rural tourism, culture, honeymoon, sun and sand, family, reunions or cruises; we will publicise areas with a high potential for developing hotels, tourism products and segments with a joint integration of marketing strategies, public relations and along with the professional tourism sector.
What outbound tourism markets do you consider as priority at the moment, and what do you expect from their participation at the Fair?
The European outbound markets that are priority for Costa Rica are: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Costa Rica clearly aims to position itself as the ideal destination to recharge energy, as well as a natural sanctuary to reconnect with what is truly essential in life. So far over 20 tourism companies from Costa Rica have already registered to participate at FITUR 2021. Participating in this fair contributes to Costa Rica remaining present in the minds of potential Spanish tourists, it strengthens our country’s position as an ideal destination to recharge in the midst of nature, in a wellness sanctuary, with sustainability as a core value.
Participation at this fair is a negotiation showcase that will allow 20 tourism entrepreneurs from the private sector to show the best of our tourism offer and to strengthen connections with European partners and allies. Costa Rica’s promotion must continue stronger than before, even more so within FITUR , one of the most important tourism fairs in the world.