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Inside Limón’s plan to develop as a tourist hotspot

February 1, 2019

The president of Limón’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Rubén Acón, wants to bolster the Caribbean city as a top tourism destination in Costa Rica.

Their latest proposal prioritizes developing a zone for hotels, as the chamber’s research concluded current infrastructure prevents tourists from staying in or near Limón as their gateway to Costa Rica’s less-visited coast.

But Acón would also like to emphasize that visions of turning the region into “the new Cancún” — as first reported by La República last March, sparking concern in nearby communities that the plan would whitewash the region’s cultures — were misinterpreted.

“Converting Limon into Cancún? Never,” Acón said in an interview with The Tico Times. “That’s not our vision.

“[…] When you talk about Cancun, people think of a lot of cement, developed basically without a strategy or respect for nature. That’s not what we’re planning. We’re planning a sustainable development that is ecologically friendly.”

The reality is this, Acón argued: Limón is suffering through a period of high unemployment, due in part to shifting opportunities that have accompanied the development of APM’s Moín Terminal.

The city was also shaken by last year’s public-sector strikes, which escalated into vandalism and violence in Limón. That caused businesses and public services to cease operations after dark, staining the city’s reputation and potentially dissuading foreign investment in the area.

While a socioeconomic impact study released in 2016 indicated the Moín terminal would directly create more than 2,000 jobs and indirectly create many more, residents aren’t feeling the positive impact yet. In fact, Standard Fruit Company, a subsidiary of Dole, closed its work center in Limón, affecting at least 200 workers.

“When the Moín terminal was authorized, it was thought that a lot of other companies would come to Limon that would generate jobs,” he said. “But the reality is they haven’t come.”

The Moín Terminal has begun receiving ships in a limited capacity and “is on schedule to be fully operational in February 2019,” according to an October press release from APM Terminals.

But in case the job boom never arrives, Acón wants Limón to diversify its development.

“Limón has all the natural conditions — rivers, mountains, sea turtle trails, beaches, hot springs, rainforests — to develop tourism, in addition to a good location in front of the Caribbean – where cruise ship volume is high,” he said. “We also have multiculturalism — different gastronomic experiences, different music.

“We have all of these factors that can turn Limón into an attractive destination, building off of Costa Rica’s good image.”

The city also has a port for cruise ships and an airport that last year received government funding for a new terminal.

What’s missing, Acón says, is a place for people to sleep. And to attract hotels to invest in Limón, the city needs to create an area with the necessary infrastructure and safety — while maintaining a commitment to the environment and local job creation.

“We want this to be unique,” he said. “We want people to know that there’s a line of hotels in Limón that are 100 percent ecologically friendly. And that sells, too. Across the world, tourists now appreciate that — that you’re visiting a place that is protecting and benefiting nature.”

Acón said the public-sector strikes and the country’s need for fiscal reform delayed progress on the proposal, but added that representatives from his Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism have met with President Carlos Alvarado and several members of the Legislative Assembly to push plans forward.

“It hasn’t gone as fast as we’d like,” he admitted, noting the chamber’s goal was to break ground prior to the Moín Terminal’s opening.

But he made one thing clear:

“We’re not, in any capacity, planning a development that would have a negative impact,” he said.


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