AUTHORITIES have announcedtourists can now carry copies of their passportsinstead of the originals when travelingwithin Costa Rica, a change designedto reduce rising rates of passport theft.The U.S. Embassy in San Joséreceived 1,050 reports of stolen passportsfrom January to mid-October of this year,spokeswoman Elaine Samson told TheTico Times – a rate of more than threestolen passports per day.Samson said the numbers of passportthefts has gone up every year for the pastcouple of years. While she pointed outthis increase can be at least partiallyexplained by the fact that the number ofU.S. citizens visiting Costa Rica has risenas well, she said passport theft is “a bigproblem.”Apparently, embassy officials fromother countries agree, and authorities herehave listened.LEADERS from the country’s tourismand public security sectors met with ambassadorsto Costa Rica Oct. 27 to announcenew tourist safety measures, including achange to regulations regarding tourists’passports.Following the meeting, Vice-Minister ofPublic Security Ana Chacón said passporttheft is a major concern expressed by theambassadors, and that Costa Rican officialshope the new passport rule, which applies tovisitors from any country, will reduce thetheft problem at tourist hotspots such asbeaches, where belongings are often unattended.Previously, tourists were required tocarry their passports with them at all times.If necessary, law-enforcement authoritiesretain the right to accompany touriststo their hotels to verify passport originals,Chacón said.SAMSON said the change in policy isone the U.S. Embassy has been hoping for.“We’ve been working with the CostaRican authorities throughout the recentpast” to try to affect the change, she said.The new policy “will greatly amelioratethis problem that has affected not only us,but embassies and tourists from othercountries as well.”Tourists whose passport has been stolenshould file a police report and contact theirembassy, Samson said. For U.S. citizens inthe country for a short time, the embassycan issue an emergency passport with limitedvalidity, a process that can usually becompleted in a single visit to the embassy.Those with more time can wait the tenworking days it takes the embassy to obtaina regular, ten-year passport from the NationalPassport Center in the United States.DESPITE the apparent rise in passporttheft, tourism and security officialsexpressed overall optimism about tourismsafety, saying Costa Rica remains a safeplace to visit.Chacón said crime statistics show levelsof crime against tourists, especiallyviolent crime, remain low, even thoughviolent crime as a whole has been on therise here in recent years.Still, authorities emphasized the needfor continued efforts to ensure the nation’stourists remain safe.“We have no doubt that tourism is thefuture of our nation,” Chacón said. “Wecannot stop being vigilant as some othercountries (with large tourist industries)have done.”William Rodríguez, president of theNational Chamber of Tourism, saidimproved coordination between ministers ofTourism and Public Security has resulted ininitiatives such as the training of police officersin tourist-specific issues.Chacón said new police training includesEnglish lessons and awareness ofpotential problems in popular tourist areas.She said 100% of police officers in theCaribbean city of Limón, “a very vulnerableplace,” and most officers in San José havereceived the training, and additional trainingfor police in tourist areas such as Puntarenasand Quepos, on the Central Pacific coast,are in the works.RODRÍGUEZ said the effort to maintainhigh levels of tourist safety has a longtermobjective.“The point here is not that tourists cometo Costa Rica one time and never return.The point is that they come back,” he said.Atotal of 1.5 million tourists are expectedto visit this year, Rodríguez added.Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro said40% of visitors to Costa Rica return foranother visit, a level he said is very highcompared to other tourist destinations. Healso said the number of tourists to Costa Ricahas grown 50% during the past five yearsand is expected to grow 23% more in 2005.Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT)spokesman Alvaro Villalobos told TheTico Times this projected increase, roughlydouble the increase for 2004, is expectedto come from newly added flights, aninternational promotion campaign, andCosta Rica’s popularity as a internationaltourism destination.