(QCOSTARICA) The tourism sector is requesting phase 3 of the reopening program laid out by the government last month, necessary to give the economy a breather, that includes among other things, the return of international tourists and extending the hours of the beaches.
Tourism entrepreneurs are urging for the opening of the air borders in July to reactivate the reservations abroad.
The measures of phase 3 were to have taken effect last weekend, but postponed by Health authorities in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak in some regions of the country, namely the agricultural and border cantons and districts of the northern zone, and two of the most populated cantons in the greater metropolitan area, Desamparados and Alajuelita.
The government introduced the “orange alert” to restrict commerce and transit, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, in those areas that have had an outbreak in cases of the COVID-19, while maintaining the rest of the country under a Yellow Alert during the national emergency.
The fear of the tourism sector lies in the fact that the setback in the opening plan will aggravate the crisis they are facing and could affect the definitive closure of businesses, businesses that have been barely hanging on, but may not be able to resist a prolonged absence of foreign tourists.
Another point made by the sector, demanding that the government comply with the chronogram, since many hotels, tour operators, restaurants, among others, budgeted based on this schedule, explained Sary Valverde, president of the Association of Travel Agencies – Asociación de Agencias de Viajes.
The businesswoman explained that many operators rehired staff, invested in health protocols, and booked reservations for the coming months, aiming to advance the reopening program.
Postponing every 15 days – the opening of borders – generates more anguish and uncertainty, I believe that the Government in this sense takes the wrong path. Rubén Acón, president of the Chamber of Tourism (Canatur)
She even assures that there are foreign airlines and potential tourists who already planned the opening of the air border to foreign tourists to visit the country in July.
Having a defined schedule also allows for pre-destination sales.
If the air borders are not opened in July, potential tourists from the United States and Europe, itching to travel, would be lost in the summer vacation period.
Delaying the re-opening of sea borders to international tourists also jeopardizes the cruise season starts in September.
“Postponing every 15 days generates more anguish and uncertainty, I think the Government is taking the wrong path in this regard,” said Ruben Acón, president of the Chamber of Tourism – Cámara de Turismo.
Currently, all borders (land, sea and air) remain closed until June 30 to the arrival of international tourists; only Costa Ricans and legal residents (who did not leave the country after March 24) are permitted entry and subject to a 14-day self-quarantine.
The borders are open for anyone in the country to leave, the San Jose international airport (SJO) is operational, serving a limited number of flights in and out each week. Airlines are not barred from service to the San Jose airport, but there is no economic sense if they cannot haul tourists.
In a statement the other, Aeris, the manager of the Juan Santamaria international airport said it is ready to resume international flights, Rafael Mencia, director of Aeris Costa Rica explained that they have been working together with the Ministry of Health and Civil Aviation on the protocols, all that is missing is the green light from authorities.
Airlines such as Lufthansa, with direct service to Germany say they are ready to operate with reduced capacities. So is Avianca, American Airlines, and United Airlines, which is currently operating limited service to and from Houston (IAH).
The goal is for next year to reach at least 50% of flight capacity, Mencia added.
What is phase 3?
If you will recall, phase 3 contemplates the lifting of sanitary restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Health, that includes keeping the borders restricted to June 30:
- Shopping centers open on weekends
- Bars to operate at 50%
- Retail shops to operate (at 50%) on weekends
- Cinemas, theaters and museums at 50% on weekends (except Melico Salazar and Teatro Nacional)
- Sports centers at 50% without contact activities
- Places of worship with a maximum of 75 people
- Beaches open from 5 a.m. at 9.30 a.m
All the above was to have occurred on June 20, one day ahead of the scheduled June 21, as announced on June 18 by Health Minister, Dr. Daniel Salas. However, 24 hours later, on June 19, Minister Salas announced an indefinite postponement and vehicular restrictions to the same as in Semana Santa.
A step back would be nefarious
Backing down on sanitary restrictions would be a blow to the tourism sector, entrepreneurs agree.
Rubén Acón, President of Canatur, told La Republica: “That people go to hotels will not influence the contagion, since all have incorporated strict sanitary protocols, monitored by the same Ministry of Health. It has not been proven that the tourist sectors of the country are a source of contagion, and the Government should be more strict with the sectors that are not complying, and give advantages to those that do, as is our case.”
For his part, Javier Pacheco, President of the Chamber of Hotels, said: “The hotel sector can no longer hold on. The announcements of support for tourism are half-hearted and what the Government has been announcing has not been met or is progressing at a rate that disadvantages us, if things continue like this, next month there will be total closings of the companies and massive layoffs.”
Sary Valverde, Chairwoman of the Association of Travel Agencies, added: “The fact that phase 3 did not open influences the operation of the sector. It is now three months without income and the situation is unsustainable. We must be clear in order to make pre-sales, otherwise, we will not be able to attract international tourists.”