Costa Rican hopes for a banner tourism season are being hurt by terrorism threats in Europe, cartels in México, the weather and the dollar-colon exchange rate.
The United States and Britain issued warnings Sunday of potential terrorist attacks in Europe. Washington urged American tourists in Europe to be extra vigilant, while London raised its threat assessment to high for citizens traveling to France and Germany.
Although the message concerns just Europe, the warning is likely to cause U.S. and Canadian tourists to think twice before leaving home.
In Acapulco, México, police still are searching for 210 Mexican tourists kidnapped last week. The kidnappers are believed to be drug cartel members, the same breed that has reduced the country to murder and chaos. Acapulco is a highly regarded beach resort, and news of the crime and news of the continuing bloodshed is bound to effect tourism to México and, by extension, to other Latin countries.
Also damaging have been reports of heavy rain damage, both in Costa Rica and in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Costa Rican roads are a mess, and the topic gets frequent mention on expat bulletin board discussion lists.
October is a time when many would-be tourists are making decisions for high season junkets. The news is not encouraging.
Then there is the dollar-colon exchange rate. The rate to buy colons was 507 to $1 this morning. That is a big decline from the 582 to $1 that was the rate a year ago. In addition, Costa Rica has enacted additional taxes that arriving tourists must pay even if they are going to be staying with friends or in their own condos or vacation homes.
Wire service reports said that the new warnings by the United States and Britain add to concerns of potential terrorist strikes in Europe that have been simmering for weeks. The U.S. State Department warned Americans in Europe to be extra cautious in public places, particularly tourist spots and transportation hubs. But Washington did not issue a formal travel warning advising Americans not to visit Europe.
Britain raised its terrorism threat assessment for Germany and France to high. Britain’s own assessed terrorism threat level is rated “severe.” The warnings follow reports of an al-Qaida terrorist plot against Europe that some believe aims to imitate the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India, when suicide gunmen killed more than 100 persons, mostly in an upscale hotel.
France’s national terror warning plan, dubbed Vigipirate, is on a reinforced red alert level — one step below the highest threat level. Last month, the famous Parisian landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was briefly evacuated following a bomb threat that proved to be a hoax.
The U.S. Department of State issued a new travel warning for México Sept. 10. Some 28,000 persons have been killed in drug wars since President Felipe Calderón took office. The carnage is big news in U.S. newspapers, as is the continual political infighting over illegal immigration. All of this is sure to have a continuing influence on public opinion.
In Costa Rica, President Laura Chinchilla is being criticized in some quarters for her outspoken independence day and United Nation speeches in which she said that criminal elements were threatening the sovereignty of the nation. Those statements also got good play in Stateside news reports.