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If You Have to Ask…

…Then You Probably Can t Afford These High-priced Hotels

The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald so famously wrote, are different from you and me.

Their tourism is different too, and every year it gets more visible in Costa Rica.

Traditionally a haven for penny-pinching backpackers and retirees, Costa Rica is seeing an increase in the kind of luxury and ultra-luxury options that target the betterheeled.

Hotels charging upward of $100 are now commonplace the low end.With the ante upped, many accommodations now fetch $200, $500, or well over $1,000 per night this month.

A couple of years ago we had maybe one luxury resort, said Marianella Herrera, a manager at travel agency Terra Nova. Now we have more options.

At least 20, to be exact, which is the number of five-star hotels listed in the Costa Rican Tourism Institute s hotel directory.

Even more options are on the way, as 2007 saw the announcement of several new high-end hotel projects designed for that luxury market, including a Mandarin Oriental hotel and an $800 million ultraluxury development by AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Luxury tourism in Costa Rica is a relatively new phenomenon whose profile was raised in 2004 with the completion of the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort on the PapagayoPeninsula in Guanacaste.

The resort remains the crème de la crème of luxury tourism.

A stay in the resort s most basic room tonight would cost you $850 plus the 16% hotel tax and resort charges.

Revelers looking to indulge even more could reserve the 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom presidential suite, with its panoramic view of the bay and tropical gardens, where Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud possibly stayed during his brief visit to Costa Rica in August (TT, Aug. 17, 2007).

The bill: $10,000 a night. (The prince probably got a discount, given he is a part owner.)

Other large-scale, name-brand hotels offering accommodations fit for a king include the Paradisus Playa Conchal, south of the Papagayo development on the Pacific coast. The sprawling resort which has been featured several times in The New York Times offers a Regal Junior Suite for the high-season price of $818 a night as its most modest option. On the high end, there s the master suite, for $1,258.

Meanwhile, the LosSueñosMarriottOcean and Golf Resort, north of the central Pacific town of Jacó, has rooms for between $300 and $550. Patricia Rodríguez, the resort s vacation coordinator, said the presidential suite with its three balconies, whirlpool and king-size bed goes for $1,600 a night.

It s really only for a couple, because it only has one bedroom, Rodríguez said. But even if the most visible luxury digs are the big hotels with the big names, they re not alone in seeking out the big spenders.

Antonio Benavides, executive director of the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels, pointed out that boutique luxury destinations are becoming more common.

These are hotels with perhaps only a few dozen rooms characterized by personalized attention that makes the guest feel special, Benavides said.

An early adapter in that category was Lapa Ríos, near the tip of the OsaPeninsula, which opened in 1993. The ecotourism haven included often on Cónde Nast Traveler s recommendation lists has only 16 bungalows, which administrative manager Arnaiy Garcia said go for about $500 per night during the high season.

Don t bother calling: They re booked through March.

But now there are more options. Since the early days of Lapa Ríos, other small-scale hotels have sprung up to serve the luxury boutique tourist. One example is Gaia Hotel and Reserve, which opened in Manuel Antonio near the end of 2006.

That hotel s accommodations go for between $250 and $1,000 a night, and in addition to four walls and a bed, some rooms come with everything from whirlpools and balconies to your very own personal valet.

Let s say three, four, five years ago, the clients didn t expect that much, said Herrera, the Terra Nova travel agent. But now high-end clients are requesting more and more luxury services like VIP services and limousines.

More of that s on the way. Mandarin Oriental, a Hong Kong company that operates 20 five-star hotels around the world, announced in June that it plans to open a hotel in Guanacaste in 2009.

And of course there was the razzle-dazzle announcement at the Casa Presidencial in August that Steve Case s Revolution LLC would be investing $800 million in an ultraluxury resort in Guanacaste, to be known as Punta Cacique (TT, Aug. 10, 2007).

The property will include accommodations under the One and Only brand, whose other locations in the world sell rooms for between $450 and $2,600 a night.

Despite its current growth, however, luxury tourism will likely remain only one of the many segments of the increasingly diversified tourism industry, said Gonzalo Vargas, president of the National Tourism Chamber.

I see it as very positive, he said. Costa Rica has the benefit that it doesn t concentrate on a single sector.




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