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Tico Tourism Industry Looks to Local Market

A decrease in international tourism resulting from the global economic downturn has led to new advertising initiatives aiming to inspire Ticos to become tourists in their own land.

In a survey of 112 businesses conducted last month by the National Tourism Chamber, more than 67 percent of respondents projected that tourism activity would decline in May, June and July compared to the same period last year (see separate story on Page S4).

With no end to the slump in the foreseeable future, many tourism companies are looking within the country for new business.

Last month, the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) launched two new campaigns offering discounts for nationals and residents. “Redescubra su país a un precio chiquitico” (Rediscover Your Country at a Tiny Price) offers up to 20 percent off during high season, November to April, and up to 35 percent off during the “green” or low season, May to October.

According to Cindy Centeno of Porter Novelli, the public relations firm that handles the campaign, “Redescubra su país” has encouraged hotels, tour operators, car rental agencies and domestic airlines to participate in helping to boost domestic tourism.

“More than 100 hotels, four car rental agencies and countless tours are offering discounts,” Centeno said. “People are saving more than $100 per night in some cases.”

ICT is investing about $428,000 in the campaign.

Cariblue Hotel in Playa Cocles, on the southern Caribbean coast, has been a supporter of ICT’s promotional campaigns for the past year, and thinks these initiatives can only improve circulation of Tico tourism.

According to Milady Agüero, who has worked at Cariblue in Puerto Viejo for four years, the campaign has been a huge help in reactivating and maintaining an industry heavily affected by the economic downturn.

“The difference has been impressive,” Agüero said. “I would say that with the new promotions, nationals account for almost 30 percent of our clientele. There used to be very few locals passing through our hotel.”

According to an ICT study of more than 2,700 Costa Ricans conducted at the end of last year, about 63 percent of Ticos take overnight vacations twice each year and 20 percent go on daytrips (TT, April 17).

Nature Air, which is offering 20 percent off all flights as part of the program, sees potential in the domestic market, according to Alexi Huntley, sales and marketing director for the local airline. With the new traffic law on the books and fuel costs on the rise, Huntley is trying to spread the word that flying is cheaper and more convenient than driving.

“We had been looking at the local market for a while, but now we’re definitely focusing on it,” he said.

Another, more specific campaign was also launched recently by the ICT. “Aquí se cura todo” (Everything’s Cured Here) aims to tap into Ticos’ more adventurous side and encourage them to discover their own country. The campaign consists of television and radio commercials and “live” billboards across the country, featuring actors portraying adventure scenes such as kayaking and mountain biking.

“We need to consolidate domestic tourism in Costa Rica,” Allan Flores, general director of ICT, said during the press conference to launch the campaign (TT, April 17).

For many tourism businesses, offering discounts for nationals is not a new concept. Some offer lower prices only for nationals, while others include foreign residents and still others extend discounts to all Central Americans.

For example, TirimbinaRainforestCenter, near La Virgen de Sarapiquí in northern Costa Rica, has always offered national discounts for daily tours and overnight stays. While foreigners pay $15 to $24 for the center’s various tours, including frog, bat, nightlife and chocolate-making tours, nationals pay a set price of $8 per tour. In addition, lodging at the Tirimbina Lodge is $45 per night for Costa Ricans compared to $69 for foreigners.

Not all hotels have jumped on board the national discount trend, however. Several large hotels are offering discounts, but for all guests.

Diana Iregui, who works in marketing and events for the Hilton Garden Inn in Liberia, capital of the northwestern Guanacaste province, said the hotel isn’t participating in any campaigns.

“If we offer a promotional discount, then it’s a discount for everyone, national or foreigner,” she said.



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