Tuesday 6 December 2022

Flight paralysis from Canada hits Costa Rica’s tourism

Canada is the second most important market for Costa Rica's tourism sector; WestJet and Air Canada suspended flights to the country since January

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QCOSTARICA – The paralysis of flights from Canada last January hit Costa Rica’s tourism sector, as Canada was the second source market for tourists in the country before the pandemic, representing 7% of tourists.

In the photo an Air Canada plane, with its red maple leaf logo on its tail, flies to Costa Rica from Montreal and Toronto. The airline has suspended its flights to the country since January. Shutterstock / The Republic

From January to May of this year, only 8,664 visitors from Canada entered by air, a drop of 93.5% compared to the first months of 2019, according to figures from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).

Even compared to the first five months of 2020 – already partially impacted by the pandemic (Costa Rica closed its airports on March 18, 2020), the decrease in arrivals from Canada is 91.4%.

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In economic terms, the loss of more than 92,000 tourists from one year to the next means US$147 million less in revenue to the country’s tourism sector, according ICT figures of the average expenditure of tourists who visit Costa Rica by plane.

This figure also translates into 1.2 million fewer nights in hotels, according to the average stay of each visitor.

The fall in the arrival of Canadian tourists is in direct response to the measure adopted by the Canadian government to limit, since the beginning of the year, flights to destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

And there is still no light at the end of the tunnel, since WestJet and Air Canada, the main Canadian airlines that fly to Costa Rica, have not yet completed their return.

WestJet has resumed several of its routes to Latin America but does not plan to consider Costa Rica until next August.

Although the Canadian government’s order to prevent airlines from departing to various destinations ended in May, Canada’s travel restrictions remain strict, not as much for leaving Canada, but on return, which does not encourage an immediate recovery in travel.

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Citizens and residents of Canada, on return, must first get a covid PCR  to fly and then another on arrival to Canada and quarantine of at least 14 days. The antigen test is not accepted by Canada.

The quarantine period includes a mandatory three-night prepaid reservation at a government-authorized hotel, at the cost of the traveler. If the PCR test is positive, the traveler must complete the quarantine at a government-authorized facility, again at the cost of the traveler.

The measures would be relaxed as of July 6 for the fully vaccinated (applies only to Canadian citizens and residents), but it will take months before the country is fully open to foreigners traveling for non-essential reasons, according to an announcement by the Canadian government.

“This is the first phase of our precautionary approach … right now we are not opening our borders any further,” Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, told Reuters.

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In May, 90,321 tourists entered Costa Rica by air, being the month with the highest visitation figures since the total reopening of air borders on November 1, 2020. This, however, only represents 55% of the visitors who entered the country through this route in May 2019, before the pandemic.

Rough Fall

The Canadian government travel restrictions have caused a significant drop in tourism to Costa Rica by air from that country (ICT figures between the months of January and May of each year).

Canada and the United States first banned non-essential travel in March 2020, at the same time Costa Rica closed its borders (air, land and sea), as a part of the effort to fight COVID-19.

The restrictions, which exclude trade in goods, are now due to expire on July 21, 2021. But Canadian officials said further easing would depend on vaccination rates, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as well as the spread of variants of concern.

“We are not insensitive to the desire of many sectors of the economy and Canadians to see more steps but that will happen at the appropriate moment,” LeBlanc said.

According to Bill Blair, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, he told the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp,  that the restrictions could not be lifted until 75% of Canadians had been fully vaccinated.

Only 14.7% of eligible Canadians have had both jabs of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine as of June 18, according to official data.

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