Lawmakers hear plea for a tourism debt bailout

The Costa Rican tourism industry is in debt $700 million, and the legislature is being asked to set up a bailout.

The number came from Raúl Blanco of the Comisión de Turismo Sostenible de Monteverde-Fortuna Thursday as he appeared before a legislative committee.

His solution, presented to the Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo, was a fidicomiso or trust that would purchase the debt of tourism operators from state and private banks.

He said that he presented this idea to former president Óscar Arias Sánchez when the estimated tourism debt was just $500 million.

“The situation is grave. It is grave because it has not been handled in time, and it is grave because the banks instead of doing things well stick on patches. We are full of patches,” he said.
Blanco said the idea would be to create a grace period of from three to five years in which tourism operators would pay no interest or principal. That would allow them to recover to the levels of 2007 and 2008, he said.

He blamed the economic downturn on other countries, including the United States and those in Europe. He told lawmakers that tourism operators need the help of the Asamblea Legislativa, presumably to set up such a mechanism.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo has a less bleak picture of the industry. At a meeting earlier in the month, Juan Carlos Ramos, chamber president, noted a slow recovery and said that this was a time for the industry to relaunch itself.

The industry has to do more than just be environmentally sustainable, but it also must seek economic sustainability with fundamentals, like being competitive. He said that the economy is predicted to improve about 4 percent per year through 2015.

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