Costa Rica’s tourism image takes a beating perhaps unjustly

Advertising, good or bad, cannot be measured easily. So it is fair to say that Costa Rican tourism has taken multiple hits lately, but the monetary value is hard to estimate.

The first to feel the response to negative news about Costa Rica were fishing camps in Barra del Colorado in November. The tourism firms on the Río Colorado in northeastern Costa Rica are world famous for tarpon fishing. That was before Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega decided to invade a chunk of Costa Rican land nearby. Then the cancelations began to roll in from wary fishermen who feared a war. The losses were in the thousands at least.

The Feb. 1 or 2 murder of a Canadian woman who ran a chocolate operation near Puerto Jiménez received extensive coverage in her home country. The woman was Kimberley Blackwell, a long-time resident of the Osa Peninsula. The case still is unsolved.

Also in February a trade organization dedicated to protecting copyrights and other intellectual property asked U.S. officials to place Costa Rica on a priority watch list, the so-called list of shame, for handling counterfeit goods.

In March, La Nación reported the contents of a 2007 U.S. Embassy cable that said Costa Rica was not a paradise. The cable criticized the lack of an adequate sewage system in the Central valley and correctly reported that 97 percent of the country’s sewage ends up in the sea. The information was not new, but the report gained wide circulation, including on Internet tourism sites.

More recently, Costa Rica’s location as a major drug transit country has made the news, and the commander of the U.S. Southern Command said the northern triangle formed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is possibly the most violent place on Earth today. These comments added to the growing street crime in Costa Rica are not encouraging to tourism.

Now the major Costa Rican news in Europe is the disappearance of a retired French couple,  Gerard and Claude Dubois, who vanished a week ago near Quepos. They appear to be crime victims because their passports were found in a trash can in Jacó.

Sewage was back in the news this week when Channel 7 reported it found high levels of pollution from Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, another hotel and a pig farm in the vicinity of Arenal volcano. Raw sewage was running into streams where residents and tourists bathe, the television report said. Tabacon is a leader on the list of highly rated and respected tourism operations here.

Perhaps the most damaging blow of all took place when the Ministerio de Salud closed Cafe Mundo in San José because a number of diners and employees suffered from food poisoning of some sort. The popular Cafe Mundo is highly regarded and listed in all the tourism guides. Now Internet sources such as Trip Advisor, are humming with reports in English and Spanish of persons who became sick there. This was the latest health scare at well-known tourism operations.

Online discussions are a double-edged sword. Incorrect
and malicious postings mix with the well-reasoned, and casual readers frequently cannot determine which is which. One Yahoo posting, for example, says that 100,000 Costa Ricans a year are leaving their home country to flee crime. The writer seems to have confused this country with other Latin lands.

Then there is the series of photos that incorrectly claim turtle egg harvesting is driving the creatures to extinction.

There are continual postings about African bees, volcanos, earthquakes and snakes that seem to cater to selected phobias.

The country’s image is critical, particularly now as the Easter vacation period starts and foreigners are planning summer visits in the face of an unfriendly exchange rate.

Despite all the negative publicity, Costa Rica does not have an organized effort to monitor Internet discussions and to counter falsehoods and exaggerations. Many large corporations invest in such operations, and a negative Internet posting brings a quick explanatory response.

Costa Rica seems to lack competent public relations experts in crisis management. Sometimes negative publicity from an unexpected event can be countered successfully by a rapid and reasoned response.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.