After a slow 2006, tourism growth has bumped back up into the double digits. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) announced this week that 1.9 million people visited Costa Rica in 2007, an increase of 11.5% over last year’s 1.75 million-plus visitors.
Tourist spending increased even faster. The industry is expected to gross more than $1.9 billion this year, an 18% jump over 2006.
Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides attributed the visitation increase largely to the greater number of flights arriving to Costa Rica. Some 675,000 more airline seats held fannies headed for Costa Rica, a 22% jump.
Almost a dozen airlines either started service to Costa Rica this year or added new flights.
The healthy increase in the country’s tourism industry presents a rebound from last year’s light 2.7% growth and a return to the robust double-digit growth of 2005 (15.6%), 2004 (17.3%) and 2003 (11.3%).
The sharp growth in tourism over the last few years has caused the ICT to rethink its projections. Planners had previously figured a modest and steady growth of an average of 6.6%.What they’ve had instead in the last five years is a red-hot 9.06% percent average growth.
“We’re 3.5 points above where we wanted to be,” said Rodolfo Lizano, director of the ICT’s Department of Planning and Development. “This is much stronger than what we were thinking.”
To reach the institute’s goal of 2.3 million tourists visiting the country by 2012, the country will need only to see light increases that average 4.5% during the next few years.
During his presentation, Lizano produced several notable statistics complied by the institute over the last year. (See accompanying story.) For example, most tourists take home with them a more positive impression of the country than when they came with.
Along with that, 65.5% of visitors to the country report having been turned onto Costa Rica by friends and family.
Asked to choose which of five words –service, nature, peace, sustainability, friendliness – to describe what they like most about Costa Rica, the visitors said friendliness.
Lizano chalked it up to the pura vida lifestyle.
“This way of being is what most attracts tourists to the country,” he said.
Along with attracting tourists, pura vida brought $800 million to the country in tourism-related investment this year. Some of that money is going into 20 new marinas that developers have applied to build in the country.
Three of those – in Quepos, Golfito and Papagayo – should be open for business by the first quarter of 2009, Benavides said.
This year’s tourism boom isn’t slowing down the institute’s publicity efforts. Benavides said the Institute spent 95% of its $8 million marketing budget in 2007, and next year that budget will be increased to $14 million.
“It’s the biggest budget we’ve ever had,” Benavides said, noting that though this year’s numbers were good, “we want to do even better than that.”
Tourists by the Numbers
The skinny on the average visitor to Costa Rica:
11-12: Number of days stayed
$1,200: Average amount spent
43: Average age
80: Percent with college degree
33: Percent traveling in a couple
29.4: Percent traveling alone
61.4: Percent traveling without tour guide
66: Percent from N. America
17.1: Percent from Europe