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Costa Rica hopes Chinese tourists will think pura vida for their next vacation

January 7, 2015

Costa Rican hotel and tourist operators may have to start learning Mandarin if President Luis Guillermo Solís’ administration makes good on a goal to court more Chinese tourists. Solís made the statement on Wednesday during his trip to Beijing.

The president, who met with Li Jinzao, director of the China National Tourism Administration, said that tourism is one of the strategic priorities of the two countries’ relationship. Solís said Costa Rica would work with the Chinese government to establish a direct flight from China to Costa Rica and announced the opening of a new consulate in Shagnhai.

Costa Rica plans to work with China to improve the number of Mandarin speakers at Costa Rican tourist outfits and extend an invitation to Chinese tourism businesses to participate in the next EXPOTUR trade show in early May, according to the statement from Casa Presidencial.

Foreign Minister Manuel González said the new consulate will help expand the country’s image as a tourist destination and diversify the mix of countries that sent 2.4 million tourists to Costa Rica in 2013. Costa Rica’s travel sector was hard-hit by its strong dependence on U.S. tourists during the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Increasing purchasing power and fewer travel restrictions have made Chinese travelers one of the most coveted demographics for tourist destinations. China has become the world’s largest source of international tourists, who spent $129 billion on travel in 2013, according to the World Tourism Organization. But Costa Rica has yet to tap into this market. In 2014, only 6,734 Chinese tourists flew into Juan Santamaría International Airport, according to figures from the Immigration Administration.

Chinese tourists require visas prior to their arrival in Costa Rica, but this process is less intensive now than in years past, said Andrea Quesada, press spokeswoman at the Immigration Administration.

U.S. tourists have long endured (or contributed to) the “ugly American” stereotype with tales of bad behavior abroad, but the newly affluent Chinese travelers are starting to develop their own notoriety. Chinese state-run media branded four unruly air passengers “barbarians” after they scalded an air hostess and threatened to blow up a plane last month, in the latest embarrassment by some of the country’s travelers. The National Tourism Administration vowed to “punish” the group after a low-cost flight from Thailand to the eastern city of Nanjing was forced to return to Bangkok when a female Chinese passenger threw hot water and noodles at a cabin attendant.

Vice-Premier Wang Yang said that poor behavior from Chinese tourists was giving the country a bad name, and that “the quality and breeding of some tourists are not high yet.” The vice-premier listed talking loudly in public places, jay-walking, spitting and carving the characters of their name in scenic places among the offenses, the AFP reported in the South China Morning Post.

Only time will tell if Chinese tourists jive with pura vida.

AFP contributed to this report.

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