Sunday 5 February 2023

Canatur expects an “explosion” of American tourists for the second half of 2021

Semana Santa boosted average hotel occupancy to 75%, but Costa Rica returned to the "very low" season, and although the ICT has "positive expectations", the goal for this year remains at one million visitors

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QCOSTARICA – Local tourism at Semana Santa gave a brief respite to the tourism sector, especially in beach destinations: the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels (CCH) recorded an average occupancy of 75%, while the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur) reported a flow distributed on both coasts and some mountain locations.

The Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Segura, personally greeting tourists when Costa Rica reopened the airports last August. Photo: ICT

However, the sector has returned to the so-called “very low” season and could be aggravated by the early arrival of the rainy season.

Now tourism businesses are betting on long weekends (with weekend holidays) and on a possibility of the “explosion” of American tourism to Costa Rica, in the second semester, once mass vaccination advances in that country.

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This is the word from Rubén Acón, president of Canatur, who assured that local tourism has historically represented between 15% and 20% of the income of the sector.

“It is important that the pandemic is controlled, that contagion rates do not rise. In that we as a sector have been very responsible: tourism is not a source of contagion. The bet now is with international tourism. We believe that with mass vaccination in the United States, tourism from that country, in the second semester, is going to explode, and there are hopes,” Acón asserts.

That assurance of a possible increase in tourism from the United States also comes from Gustavo Segura, the Minister of Tourism, who is positive in that expectation.

“If they reach the goal set of having 200 million people vaccinated by June, one might think that this is an absolutely strategic market for Costa Rica,” he said.

“Today there are already some positive effects with airlines, and they are the product of this vaccination news: those that are already flying are increasing their flights between the United States and Costa Rica. And there are also airlines that I still cannot mention, that have not returned but are already talking to us to return in the second semester,” Segura said.

Read more: More airlines and flights predict a rebound in tourism for the second semester

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However, the projection of visitors for 2021 remains low, at one million, the same result of 2020, which is about one third of international visitors in the last few years.

Segura explained that in 2020, the first year of the pandemic in March, the months of January and February represented extraordinary results in visitors to the country. Therefore, repeating the volume of arrivals without counting those first months (which were deficient in 2021) would be a positive result.

As to Canadian and European visitors, two major sources of tourists after the United States, is less hopeful due to the behavior of the pandemic in countries such as France and England.

Acón assured that Chinese tourism would be a counterweight to the uncertainty with Europe, and although the legislation has already been adjusted to allow entry without a visa from certain cities of the Asian country, the results of the efforts would be given in the short or medium term.

Approximate percentages of tourist occupancy in diversified destinations, beyond the traditional beach tourism in the Pacific: Monteverde 55%, Sarapiquí 50%, South Caribbean above 80%, Zona de los Santos above 90%. Source: ICT

Fleeting Semana Santa

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The representatives of the sector were emphatic in stating that the positive effects of Semana Santa were specific and insufficient for the comprehensive reactivation of the sector.

Both Canatur and the CCH assure that a large percentage of Semana Santa tourism corresponded to day trips, which have an indirect impact on the sector. However, the results are classified as positive.

Flora Ayub, executive director of the Chamber of Hotels, assured that most of the reservations took place between Thursday and Saturday (April 1 and April 3), and favored in particular beach destinations and some traditional mountain destinations, such as Monteverde, although in lower percentages.

“Tourism reacted a bit, not compared to 2019, but this movement represents job creation; It must be remembered that most hotels keep staff with reduced working hours, so this week they were able to work longer. Of course, it did not mean that with that we came out of the crisis: the occupancy averages are again at 25% to 30% on weekends and the real low season is coming,” Ayub warned.

The hotel sector is concentrating on the short term, and now has its sights set on the holidays moved to Mondays and expect high movement on the weekend of the May 1st.

“In addition, in the metropolitan area, the occupation at Semana Santa was rather worse than the rest of the year. The hotels keep making special offers and activities such as family attractions, magic shows, concerts from the internal balconies and other initiatives that are worth considering,” Ayub stressed.

Tourism entered the so-called “zero season” a year ago, in April 2020, due to the closure of borders and sanitary measures, such as confinement and commercial closures. Before that moment, the sector generated over 500,000 direct and indirect jobs, mostly in rural areas.

On the political front, Tourism Minister Segura is hopeful that once legislators complete the legislative process on the public employment plan, legislators will begin work on at least five fundamental projects to achieve the goal of attracting one million tourists, including digital nomads, film production, and national endorsements fund.

Read also: Costa Rica to sign up “Influencers” to promote tourism

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