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Costa Rica celebrates World Tourism Day

The international community on Monday celebrates World Tourism Day, which Costa Rica commemorated by launching a digital communications strategy highlighting pioneers of the local industry.

A Tourism Board (ICT) team visited Puerto Jiménez, Sierpe, Caño Negro, Puerto Viejo (Limón) and Tárcoles to interview and photograph members of the Costa Rican tourism sector as part of the first stage of the “Rostros del Turismo” series. Their stories will be shared via the ICT’s social media pages.

A second series, scheduled for next year, will highlight tourism workers from Guanacaste, La Fortuna, Sarapiquí and the Central Valley.

“On such an important date for all of us who make up the tourism industry, I wish to congratulate the women and men of Costa Rica, those faces of tourism that work day by day to continue positioning our country as a wellness destination,” said Gustavo Segura, Tourism Minister.

A similar initiative shares the voices of Costa Rica’s tourism sector via the Esencia Turismo podcast, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Tourism is one of Costa Rica’s principal economic drivers. Before the pandemic, it contributed to 8.2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and created 9% of the nation’s jobs, according to the ICT. 

The industry employs one in every ten people on Earth, according to the United Nations. Tourism may not recover from the pandemic until 2023 or later, the UN says, and developing nations “have borne the biggest brunt of the pandemic’s impact on tourism.”

Costa Rica tourism in numbers

Costa Rica received 3.1 million foreign visitors in 2019. Where did they all come from? Let’s dive in:

Most tourists arrived from North America

Of the 3,139,008 international visitors to Costa Rica in 2019, more than half (1,666,571) came from North America. Of those, the vast majority originated in the United States.

1.3 million people came from the United States, more than any other country by far. In fact, all of Europe registered “just” 500,602 visits to Costa Rica in 2019.

The 1,334,777 arrivals from the United States marked a 5.5% increase over 2018. Canada’s 234,621 visitors in 2019 were an even more significant uptick over 2018 at an 8.1% jump. Of course, numbers plummeted in 2020 as the pandemic disrupted global travel.

Central America and Europe played big roles

After North America, Central America and Europe were the regions that generated the highest numbers of visitors to Costa Rica in 2019.

Nicaragua comprised the majority of Central American entries; more than 59% of the region’s arrivals were from Costa Rica’s neighbors to the north. (On a related note, Costa Rica says it received more than 70,000 refugee requests from Nicaragua in 2018 and 2019 alone.)

As for Europe, Germany (80,580) narrowly beat out the United Kingdom (78,562) in terms of visitors to Costa Rica. Not unsurprisingly, the countries that contributed most to Costa Rica’s tourism industry (Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and The Netherlands) all have airlines with direct flights here.

Air travel remains paramount

Of the 3.1 million international visitors to Costa Rica, the vast majority arrived via airplane.

The Costa Rican Tourism Board recorded 2,418,300 entries via air travel, with a notable exception being Nicaraguans (just 4.4% came to Costa Rica via airplane, with the majority utilizing land border posts).

Of the 2,418,300 international visitors who came to Costa Rica via airplane, 1,817,043 transited through Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela.

Just under 600,000 people transited through Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport — an 8.5% increase over 2018. Guanacaste’s airport has recovered passenger traffic more quickly in 2021.

An oddity: Tourism boom from North Korea

Costa Rica received a single visitor from North Korea in 2019. They arrived in December 2019.

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