Q COSTA RICA – “China exports tourists in enormous quantities but hardly any make it to Costa Rica – which they’d love to change,” were the words of Costa Rica’s president Rodrigo Chaves, to the China Global Television Network (CGTN), showing his government’s interest in getting more Chinese visitors.
Last year, around 160 million Chinese tourists traveled around the world, but only 16,000 made it to Costa Rica. That’s because of a lack of flights, little advertising in China, and the difficulty of getting a visa.
However, this could change because the Chinese government has reduced the limitations on citizens to leave the country and because the public and private sectors of Costa Rica are already analyzing new strategies to capture a percentage of this tourist market.
The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) – Costa Rica Tourism Board- knows that they don’t have a lot of money for promotion, so they’re trying to figure out the most effective ways to draw in these tourists.
The Minister of Tourism, William Rodríguez, said that if President Chaves and the country want to launch promotional campaigns in that market, they’ll do their best to reach the right people.
According to Rodríguez, the attraction of the tourist should be aimed at a very high-profile market that appreciates the tourism product the country has to offer, understanding that currently there are some challenges to serving them in a massive way, for instance, tour guides should know the language.
Chinese tourists already arrive in Costa Rica with a US visa or a European Schengen visa and come from Macao or Hong Kong, however, there are other travelers from Beijing or Shanghai who must apply for a category three visa and the procedure can be very complicated.
To facilitate the arrival of Chinese visitors, Costa Rica immigration authorities have put into place a protocol in 2021 to make it easier, for example, people from Beijing or Shanghai who purchase tourist packages from approved Costa Rican companies, sanctioned by the ICT and the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce (MEIC), don’t need to get a consular visa.
“Although we had the protocol approved, the truth is that in practice it was not applicable, but now that the Chinese government has relaxed the measures, there is an opportunity that we can benefit from Chinese tourism. So we as a Chamber see that it is time to start moving this, in fact, we have been preparing to serve the Chinese tourist”, said Rubén Acón, president of the Cámara Nacional de Turismo (Canatur).
The Ministry of Labor’s “Empléate” program is giving 500 to 600 people in the tourism industry scholarships for intensive one-year Mandarin classes as part of efforts to upgrade training. Plus, there are discussions and seminars for everyone to learn what Chinese travelers expect when they come to Costa Rica. To top it off, they’re even bringing in influencers and tourism companies from China to hang out in Costa Rica and get to know the country’s main tourist spots.
Chinese tourists have the profile of having a lot of money to spend, often two to three times more than American or European visitors. They can be retirees or young people with plenty of travel experience. They take long vacations and aim to both visit the country and make investments.
Marcia Liu from the Chinese embassy in Costa Rica said it’s a great chance to take advantage of the tourism relationship between China and Costa Rica, as the pandemic is improving in China and tourism is recovering. She also said that it’s essential to promote Costa Rica at the big Chinese tourist fairs, to make people aware of the attractions and facilities available in Costa Rica.
Unfortunately, it’s currently quite expensive and takes 18-20 hours to get to Costa Rica from China with a layover in Europe or the US, costing around US$2,000.
Chinese Tourism in Costa Rica
Key ways to increase Chinese tourism to Costa Rica, include:
- Updating immigration and visa procedures, promoting Costa Rica at Chinese fairs
- Training staff and tour guides to serve Chinese tourists
- Improving air connectivity
- Working together between the private sector and ICT to come up with new strategies