Betting on extending the cruise season annually and investing in infrastructure should be the next steps of the tourist cruise industry in Costa Rica, several experts agree.
This would allow the country to improve its tourism revenues and not be left behind by its competitors in the Caribbean, or its Central American neighbors, who have been investing significantly in attracting tourists by sea.
Costa Rica has the advantage of being currently the best destination for isthmus cruises, according to Porthole Cruise Magazine and The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
According to date from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) – Costa Rican Tourism Board – the cruise tourist has high purchasing power, so is wanted by several destinations in the Central American and Caribbean region.
This is the profile of the cruise ship that visits Costa Rica, according to ICT: American, with an average age of 55, spends between US$37 and US$70 per day, and contributes US$8.4 million to the national economy.
“The strategic location, being outside the area of influence of hurricanes and good international tourist image are the advantages of the country as a destination,” explained Rubén Acón, president of the Cámara de Comercio, Industria y Turismo de Limón (Limon Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism).
However, neighboring countries competing are investing aggressively.
An example, Panama has approved the investment of US$18 million between 2021 and 2023 for the Norwegian Cruise Line company to use its ports as a point of embarkation and disembarkation.
More than 140 cruise ships arrive per season, according to figures from the Panama Tourism Authority.
Last cruise season (2017-2018) 326,000 tourists arrived in Costa Rica by way of cruise ship, contributing US$8.4 million in the local economy of US$37 dollars per cruise ship passenger.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean Cruises, the largest in the world, will invest US$27.2 million in the paradisiacal island of Roatan, Honduras, which annually receives 1 million visitors by sea.
The competitive advantage of these destinations is that they receive cruises all year round; while Costa Rica welcomes cruise ship visitors only from September to May.
In the Pacific, an investment of US$4.5 million is projected for several tourism projects. The most expensive is the US$2 million Parque El Muellero, in Puntarenas, which will connect the cruise ship dock with the Parque Marino del Pacífico (Pacific Marine Park), and includes benches, green areas, and a skating rink, among other elements.
To these investments is added the inclusion of a strategy related to the cruise industry within the Investment Attraction Department of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).
For the 2019-2020 season, the arrival of 289 cruise ships is projected. Of the total, 173 cruise ships will be in the Pacific ports and 116 in the Caribbean.
During the last cruise season (September 2018 and April 2019), 326,000 cruise passengers entered Costa Rica, according to data from the immigration service and port authorities.
Rubén Acón, President of the Cámara de Comercio, Industria y Turismo de Limón, told La Republica, “We must improve the conditions offered to tourists once they get off the cruise; Offer optimal security and clean conditions, entertainment venues, restaurants, Wi-Fi Internet and duty-free shops. I am sure that at least Limón has the potential to receive cruise ships and tourists all year round, as do Honduras and Panama.”
Gustavo Alvarado, Tourism Management Director at the ICT, “The routes and itineraries of the cruises are outlined taking into account the tastes that the market demands, in the case of Costa Rica, we are positioned in the cruise ship’s taste for the international image that our country has as a sustainable and wide-ranging destination natural wealth The strategic location of the destination is another important factor that attracts cruise lines, according to planned routes.”
For Godfrey Tang, Commercial Director of Royal Caribbean Costa Rica, “If Costa Rica increases its capacity and promotion of the cruise industry, they could see revenues of up US$500,000 per ship. The renovation of the docks could be one of those advances in infrastructure to improve the industry. Another is the extension of Route 32, which would boost easier access to the capital and tempt cruise passengers to visit San José and stay longer.”
Experts agree that Costa Rica has the potential to expand its cruise industry, even to receive ships year-round, but lacks the infrastructure.