EXPOTUR, Costa Rica’s premiere showcase for all things tourism, is growing by leaps and bounds – or it would be, if organizers had the space.
Patricia Duar, executive president of the Costa Rican Association of Professionals in Tourism (ACOPROT),which hosts the annual event, says the increasing popularity of the trade fair means the waiting list keeps growing, and the slots fill up earlier each year.
Spots for vendors, or companies exhibiting their tourism services at the event, filled up last June for this year’s event, to be held May 27 to June 3 at the Hotel Herradura conference center in Cariari, northwest of San José.
“EXPOTUR has undergone a very interesting change,” Duar said of the growth of the event, called the Costa Rica Travel Mart, now in its 23rd year.
Founded in 1984 to provide a way to expose an international audience of business leaders and consumers to Costa Rica’s attractions, the event this year will bring together approximately 270 vendors from Costa Rica and Central America, and 150-200 buyers from the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Travel Mart gives local businesses the chance to make sales and form partnerships worldwide without leaving the country, while international visitors can access a wide variety of offerings in one location.
This year’s exchange will highlight the country’s cultural offerings, according to Duar. She explained that though Costa Rica’s archeological sites or museums may have trouble competing with those of other Latin American nations, it does have culture to spare, which often gets overlooked.
“We have a richness, and obviously we can’t compare it to Guatemala, for example,” she said, mentioning Tico food and folklore as among its strengths. “But it does exist.”
With this theme in mind, ACOPROT has planned seminars such as “Costa Rican Cultural Richness: Myths and Realities” and “Developing Cultural Tourism in Costa Rica” on May 28-29, the three days leading up to the trade show May 30-31. Former Culture Minister Guido Sáenz and ACOPROT President Carlos Lizama will be among the speakers.
Obviously, Costa Rica’s ecological offerings are of utmost importance for tourism here.
That’s why this year’s EXPOTUR will include, for the second consecutive year, Expoverde, an event sponsored by the Fundación Corcovado with the goal of teaching tour operators, hotel owners and others about the earth-friendly products available to them.
Expoverde, to be held May 28-29 in a separate conference room at the Herradura, will feature products from recycled paper to electric golf carts to water-saving devices.
“The efforts (participating) businesses make … should be recognized,” Duar said.
One difference EXPOTUR attendees will notice this year concerns an important factor in any conference or business gathering: food. In response to complaints during previous years about the daily lunch break, which often interrupted dynamic negotiations between participants, organizers this year will keep the action going and leave food arrangements up to each participant.
“We want to take advantage of that time so people can make more appointments in a tranquil environment,” Duar said, adding that Herradura’s dining options include everything from a quick snack or sandwich for those without a moment to spare, to a buffet, to a sit-down, formal meal for those seeking to pin down a deal over dinner.
Visitors seeking to dine in a more exotic locale – that is, in view of a volcano or at an ocean resort – can take advantage of the pre and post-tours offered in the days before and after the main event, as in previous years.
Prices to participate in EXPOTUR as a buyer are $225 for one representative per company, $200 each for two representatives, or $175 each for three. For sellers, the cost is $1,200-1,600.
For more information on EXPOTUR in English and Spanish, visit www.expotur.com or call 280-5375.
ACOPROT’s Web site, www.acoprot.org, also has information about EXPOTUR, as well as the association’s many other projects.
Duar and colleague Lizama explained that though the Travel Mart may be their highestprofile event, there’s plenty more in the works.
The association’s top priority is improving human resources for the tourism industry, Lizama said. In many cases, tourism professionals’ training is the factor that sets Costa Rica apart from other destinations, or fails to do so.
“It’s very different, the satisfaction a tourist feels just visiting a national park … from the interpretation a tourist guide can give” that tourist, he said; many countries have beautiful sites to explore, but friendliness and good service are needed to keep visitors coming back.
To help improve Costa Rican’s strengths in this area, the association recently participated in the creation of a National Tourism Education Commission, which seeks to coordinate the efforts of organizations such as the Public Education Ministry, National Training Institute, ACOPROT and others – as well as an agreement between ACOPROT and the National Insurance Institute (INS) to help educate tourism-sector business owners about the importance of insuring their assets. President Oscar Arias signed both measures April 18.
Other upcoming events include the firstever Central American Congress of Educational Tourism, to be held July 18-19 in San José. The conference, which will include university educators, tourism-chamber members, business owners and others in the industry, will focus on the needs of Costa Rica but also feature guests from the rest of Central America, as well as Mexico and Colombia, Lizama said.