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Costa Rica steps up safety measures ahead of World Surfing Games in Jacó

National and local officials in the Central Pacific canton of Garabito are stepping up measures to ensure the World Surfing Games that will take place in Jacó beach Aug. 6 – 14 is a safe, healthy success for the country.

Public agencies will also be on the look out for businesses trying to take advantage of the visitors expected to crowd the popular beach town. Organizers said they expect nearly 100,000 people to attend the area during the competition.

Zika surveillance

The Health Ministry reported Wednesday that the confirmed cases of Zika virus in the country have reached 351. More than half of those cases are patients in Central Pacific cantons, including Garabito.

Media outlets around the world in recent days reported that the surfing event will take place in one of Costa Rica’s most Zika-affected regions. But Minister Fernando Llorca said the number of confirmed cases in Central Pacific cantons has decreased in the past two weeks.

Llorca said that despite the decrease in cases, health officials maintain a permanent coordination with the organizers of the World Surfing Games. He said the Health Ministry has carried out periodic fumigations, garbage collection and inspections to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites along the Pacific coast this year.

The effect of each fumigation lasts just over a week, so these actions will be suspended this week, Llorca said Wednesday.

Pollution-free certification

The Costa Rican Surfing Federation, the Sports Ministry and the Garabito Municipality will seek recognition for the World Surfing Games as a pollution-free, or “Blue Flag” event. Mayor Tobías Murillo Rodríguez said the municipality rented three additional garbage trucks to maintain waste collection in the district 24-7.

Besides increasing garbage collection, the municipality performed special cleaning projects at the beach and in various local rivers.

The Water and Sewers Institute’s water laboratory also evaluated the quality of seawater at Jacó beach in late July. Results of those evaluations certified the beach as “A Class,” which means seawater in Jacó is bacteriologically safe for recreational purposes.

The quality of seawater is one of the most important aspects in the evaluation required to obtain a Blue Flag certification in the beaches category. The Blue Flag program recognizes beaches for trash-free sands, clean ocean and drinking water, access to showers and restrooms and waste disposal programs.

Surf Federation President Randall Chaves said he hopes all these actions will help boost the tourism potential of the Central Pacific area and give Costa Rica a name as a world leader in organizing environmentally friendly sporting events.

Price hikes and paying taxes

The Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels (CCH) warned earlier this week of a “disproportionate increase in reservations at rental homes and condos, whose owners might be dodging taxes and insurance payments.”

A query of lodging options in Jacó on the accommodation-sharing service Airbnb on Thursday showed almost 100 options of houses and apartments available during the week of the surfing games. Prices for the full week range from ₡84,000 to ₡500,000 ($151-$900).

In a news release, the Chamber of Hotels demanded that the Tax Administration, the Social Security System, the National Insurance Institute and the municipality of Garabito carry out “a close inspection across the canton to find insurance and tax dodgers.”

Chamber president Gustavo Araya said the World Surfing Games “can be a good opportunity for public agencies to collect taxes just like they do with all of us legal business owners.”

Garabito Mayor Tobías Murillo said Thursday that the sports event represents a great business opportunity for the canton. However, he is aware that some might try to overcharge for their products and services and some might try to conduct businesses without a permit.

Murillo said he knows it’s almost impossible for local hotels and other lodging options to accommodate the large number of visitors expected. “However those who will be renting their homes or properties must fulfill their tax duties,” he said.

The mayor said the municipality is ready to go after those seeking to dodge taxes. In the case of people offering accommodations, municipal officials are currently making an official list of online and print ads that will be used for verification purposes during tax collection.

Street vending and security

Mayor Murillo said one of the municipality’s main goals is to prevent street vendors from affecting local businesses and disturbing visitors.

The Garabito municipality did not issue any permits to sell products on the street during the surf competition, only granting temporary business licenses for selling food and other products within a special fairground located at the beach.

“All merchandise sold outside this area, along the beach or on nearby streets will be confiscated,” the mayor said.

Murillo said he’s aware that it is very difficult to fully control street vendors and that some of them will risk bringing their merchandise to Jacó, “but we will make every effort to avoid it,” he said.

The city’s 50 Municipal Police officers will work alongside National Police officers to provide security for the event around the clock.

The Public Security Ministry will report on Friday the number of officers who will be patrolling the Jacó area during the event. The ministry’s press office reported Thursday that it is still reviewing the event’s compliance with security requirements.

Read more coverage of the World Surfing Games here.

L. Arias
L. Arias
Reporter | The Tico Times |

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