Monday 5 December 2022

Pandemic setback: Tourist visits to Costa Rica fell to 1998 levels

According to Canatur, the entry of visitors in 2020 was barely 790,000 tourists. Government looks to China for increasing tourist visitation

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3 December 2022 - At The Banks - BCCR

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QCOSTARICA – If there were doubts about the impact of COVID-19 on the Costa Rican tourism sector, the figures will help to clear them up.

A typical image of Costa Rican beaches in 2020 during the early months of the pandemic: police patrols to ensure that closures due to the pandemic were respected.

One of those figures is the visits of foreign tourists to Costa Rica. Stunning, in 2020, the entry of vacationers fell to the same levels of 22 years ago, revealed the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) – Costa Rican Tourism Board.

In 1998, according to the ICT, Costa Rica received close to one million foreign vacationers.

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In 2019, before the pandemic hit the planet, tourist visits had reached more than three million.

While in 2020, already in the midst of the national emergency, 1,011,912 tourists entered Costa Rica, mostly during the months of January and February, prior to that historic day in March when the Government announced closures of borders, businesses, beaches and other tourist sites to prevent further outbreaks of the new coronavirus.

The fall has no comparisons in the history of the Costa Rican tourism industry.

In 2001, during the global emergency following the falling of the Twin Towers in New York, the drop in international flights and tourist arrivals barely fell by 0.4%.

Two years later, when the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus appeared, when Costa Rica topped 1.5 million tourists, the influx of tourists, then more than 1.5 million people, the reduction was 0.4%.

The worst precedent that the country had registered before 2020, was in 2009, during the global economic crisis, which contracted the entry of tourists by 4%. That year more than 1.7 million vacationers visited us.

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Season zero

2020 was different. After the 2009 economic crisis, the curve in the number of tourists increased each year with a slight setback in 2016. Until 2020 that saw arrivals fall by 70% from the 3 million in 2019.

“The drop in international visitation to our country, which is the most common measure of the state of health of the tourism industry, is very evident, a -70% and it could have been worse because we had a few good months last year except for January and February.

“Last year we got numbers of visitors similar to 1998 with a tourist infrastructure and market that was designed for the year 2020. So, the drama in which we find ourselves is evident,” lamented the Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Segura.

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Shirley Calvo, executive director of the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur), pointed out that the sector views last year’s visitation figures “with great concern”.

“The uncertainty did not go away, as the industry has a much tougher 2021,” added Calvo.

The Canatur official explains, that although the 2020 numbers are awful, “we understand that it was the first impact of the pandemic”, but the impact on 2021 may be similar if not worse, an impact felt by more than 225,000 people who worked for the sector before the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 on tourism, experts agree, is about 10 times worse than other economic activities in the country.

According to Canatur estimates, the full recovery of the tourism sector will take between two and a half and four years to return to 2019 levels, based on the slow recovery in international markets, which suggests an unprecedented extension of the crisis facing Costa Rican tourism.

This Wednesday the Government announced additional measures to support tourism, among them, flexibility in the analysis of companies’ ability to pay for credit; the opening to more visitors from China; government loans, and allowing public service employees to accumulate hours to have an additional day off per week in order to visit tourist sites in the country.

In addition, and only for this year, the government of Carlos Alvarado announced a holiday to celebrate Father’s Day on Monday, June 21.

However, she said other measures to support the sector are still lacking, particularly those related to companies’ access to credit for working capital and debt restructuring.

Regarding the opening of borders to Chinese tourists, their entry without a prior visa is restricted to residents of Beijing and Shanghai, and must purchase a travel package from a Costa Rica tour operator.

Likewise, she considered very important the Government’s decision that public employees accumulate working hours so that they h

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