With much hoopla, the Costa Rican Tourism Board had planned to welcome 2008’s 2 millionth tourist last week.
Now, because of a slowdown in tourism, the milestone, which will be marked with a ceremony and a showering of gifts upon lucky No. 2 Million, is not expected until next week.
The ICT reported that 122,000 tourists entered Costa Rica during October, a drop of about 8,500 tourists compared to October 2007.
Aside from delaying ICT’s dog-and-pony show, the drop in visitation is beginning to cause pain to those make their living off of tourism.
Marleny Jiménez, owner of the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort in the OsaPeninsula, said her business is already feeling a difference in the number of tourists compared to last year.
These last few weeks have been slow for her hotel, Jiménez said, but it remains almost fully booked for the last week of December.
The drop in tourists has led to layoffs.
Last year around this time, the Osa resort had 44 workers. This year, Jiménez said, the staff is at 27.
Marie Yates, owner of Marie’s Restaurant in Playa Flamingo, located in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, said she is also seeing fewer customers.
Yates, who has rented the same location for 23 years, said her numbers are down 37 percent over last year.
“I have a 96-seat capacity, which is usually around this time of year filled at 80 percent. … Now, I’m seating about 50 percent,” said Yates.
Yates says the lack of tourists in the area make life difficult as she’s hardly able to pay her bills.
“I’m normally hiring extra help around this time, but I’m waiting to see what happens,” she added. “I’m waiting to see if it improves.”
Help may be on the way, thanks to increased advertising spending by ICT. Gustavo Segura, general director of the Costa Rican Hotel Association, said members are happy ICT plans to spend $20 million in advertising in the U.S., a $6 million jump over last year.
Gonzalo Vargas President of CANATUR, National Tourism Chamber, estimates that 2008 will close with a 7.5 percent increase in the number of tourists who visited the country – significantly lower than the 11.5 percent growth experienced in 2007.
To jumpstart the industry, ICT and many participating hotels and car rental companies across the country put together a plan called Redescubra a su país, or Rediscover Your Country, pitching more tourism by locals and legal residents.
The offer that was valid during two different periods this year has been extended from Jan. 6 through May 31.
Rediscover Your Country this year offered Costa Ricans and residents up to 35 percent discounts during low season and 20 percent during the high season.
CANATUR predicts in their annual tourism report released last week that tourism businesses would have to adapt to the reduced demand next year. CANATUR predicts just 5 percent growth in tourism next year, said Vargas.
Looking for a silver lining, Segura said crises in other parts of the world may help Costa Rica.
“The news in Thailand and India, although lamentable, could mean good news to Costa Rica,” Segura says. “The U.S. consumer could feel forced to change his or her vacation destination.”