Tourism Drives Costa Rica’s Quest for Purity
Visitors to Costa Rica won’t be in the country very long before hearing its most popular phrase. Customs officials say “Pura vida!” while returning documents to travelers entering the Central American nation. Airport attendants direct travelers to local transportation with easy smiles and “Pura vida!” greetings.
Costa Rica’s signature saying translates as “pure life” and references the esteemed value residents place on harmonious interaction between human society and nature.
Such sentiments comes for visitors as well as they encounter Costa Rica’s magnificent natural environment, from leafy volcanic mountains of the “cordillera de Guanacaste” to the bubbling rivers that flow down from the peaks to lush flatlands. San Jose, on the country’s Caribbean coast, features virgin rainforests and white-sand beaches.
Travelers to the country will also find accommodation options that range from small beachside bed & breakfasts to intimate mountain lodges, to branded international hotels.
This year a 100-room Green Residence Hotel and Suites opened in San Jose and a 44-room Nantipa: A Tico Beach Resort boutique property launched in Puntarenas. A 124-room Residence Flamingo by Marriott resort will open in Guanacaste in November and a 21-room Casa Chameleon hotel is scheduled to open in Mal Pais in December.
The country is recognized as a global leader in sustainable practices as 26 percent of its land mass is comprised of protected areas containing five percent of the known biodiversity in the world.
The nation has embarked on a carbon neutrality project that is a key to its eco-tourism identity. We spoke recently with Alejandro Castro, marketing director for Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), the Costa Rica Tourism Board, to discuss the country’s tourism present and future.
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TrevelPulse: When you say Costa Rica is seeking to become carbon neutral by 2021 what exactly does that mean?
Alejandro Castro: Costa Rica is blessed by Mother Nature. Our country has always had a deep commitment to environmental conservation and preservation so it was only natural to focus on achieving total carbon neutrality.
To be carbon neutral means removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is emitted. The Costa Rican government has developed plans to begin offsetting all of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Among these include covering energy needs from renewable sources.
According to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, 97 percent of electricity during the first quarter of 2016 came from renewable resources, mostly hydroelectric power plants. The country covers the rest of its energy needs from wind farms, geothermal, biomass and solar power plants.
The Costa Rican government implements environmental policies and incentives to encourage conservation and maintain the forests at healthy density levels. It protects national parks, promotes ecotourism and encourages organic agriculture.
TP: How will the country's carbon neutral status impact tourism and the visitor experience in Costa Rica?
AC: Virgilio Espinoza Rodriguez, who is Costa Rica’s head of certifications and responsible tourism, has called carbon neutrality “consistent” with Costa Rica’s tourism product in that it complements the country’s natural offerings. He says carbon neutrality is beneficial in terms of credibility [and] strengthens the country's reputation as a pioneer in ecotourism and sustainable tourism.
TP: Are visits to Costa Rica by U.S.-based travelers growing?
AC: In 2014, the country attracted 997,262 visitors from the U.S.; in 2015 we had 1,077,044. We expect a similar pattern for this year. In 2014-2015, Costa Rica received 164 cruise ships and in 2015-2016, the country received 214 cruise ships. The upcoming 2016-2017 season is expected to receive 257 cruise ships.
TP: What factors are responsible for the country's growing visitor arrivals?
AC: Costa Rica’s natural beauty draws visitors from around the worldwide variety of attractions from national parks to powerful volcanoes, stunning beaches and waterfalls, provide visitors with ample opportunities to enjoy a relaxing or active vacation. Tourists are also attracted to our cultural offerings and enjoy visiting markets, art galleries, museums or partaking in local festivities.
TP: When will the new convention center open? Where will it be located and how will it impact the country's visitor arrivals?
AC: The new convention center is tentatively scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2018. It will be located seven minutes from the Juan Santamaria International Airport and just 15 minutes from downtown San Jose, in an area that hosts the highest concentration of hotels in the country.
The convention center along with other Costa Rican tourism offerings will allow us to attract and venture into the business tourism and conventions markets, resulting in increased visitors.
TP: Can you describe the national culinary plan and how will it impact visitors’ experiences?
AC: ICT, along with the Costa Rican Chamber of Restaurants and the National Institute of Biodiversity, created the National Plan for Healthy and Sustainable Food as a strategy [to] improve the country’s competitiveness as a travel destination. The plan will help promote our gastronomic products and highlight our national heritage.
The program’s purpose is to promote Costa Rican cuisine as sustainable, considering social, environmental and economic aspects in all phases of the production, marketing and service. The program not only assists in training culinary establishment’s staff on how to prepare traditional dishes, but places high emphasis in using local plants, vegetables and fruits.
Last year, ICT issued its first-ever Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) for gastronomy to several restaurants that are raising the bar for authentic, sustainable cuisine. The tourism board also plans to develop gastronomical festivals to further support the program.
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