Hotel operators reported optimistic for Easter Week

A new organization of small and medium tourist operations has a litany of complaints. Some are consistent with universal economic concerns such as electrical rates.

But the group, Asociación para Protección de Turismo, also would like to see more of the taxes tourism generates for the government. And the tourism operators would like to see the lion’s share spent on promotion.

They voiced their concerns this week as the country moved toward Semana Santa or Holy Week. The period, which usually means week-long vacations for some private and nearly all public employees, can be a windfall for tourism.

But maybe not this year.

The well-establish Cámera Nacional de Turismo reports that hotel operators are upbeat and expect about 79 percent occupancy during Semana Santa. The down side is that actual figures from April 1 show a national average of just 54.2 percent.

The tourism chamber took a survey of 100 representative hotels of all price ranges during the last week in March, it said.

The expectations and the actual occupancies were linked to location. For example, northern Guanacaste hotel operators expected 91.5 percent of their rooms to be filled for Easter week.

The actual figures of occupancy on April 1 ranged from 32.7 percent in the Central Valley to 65.6 percent in the south Pacific. None of those figures suggest hotel owners are making much of a profit on their investments.

Central Valley hospitality operators will take another hit during Semana Santa. The week may be great for beach locations and mountain retreats, but the exodus means low occupancy in the Central Valley. Hotel operators there estimated Easter occupancy at 53.8 percent.

The chamber said that hotel rates for Easter range from $12 to $500 a night. In fact, hotel owners are scurrying to develop Easter week packages. A typical one is $60 a night for two persons with breakfast thrown in.

A lot depends on the location, the amenities and from where vacationers come. Papagayo hotels that draw from an international crowd are charging rates far higher than businesses that cater to the national tourism consumer.

The actual occupancy rate last year was 85 percent, the chamber said.

The tourism operators who met with lawmakers this week were seeking special considerations in a number of areas. They had some support from legislators. The group hopes to put on effective lobbying campaigns.

That is something that long-standing national organizations like the Cámera Nacional have not been able to do. For example, the tourism chamber opposes the dry law that forbids the sale of alcohol on the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. That is April 20 and 21 this year. The prohibition, based on religious grounds, cost hotel and restaurant operators thousands each year.  But the chamber has been largely ineffective in pushing this goal.
There does not seem to have been any support from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo either.
Tradition has it that Jesus Christ served his apostles wine at the Last Supper, so the Easter Week prohibition against alcohol would seem to be arbitrary at least. Yet it endures.

As far as promotion, there does not seem to have been any special efforts made by the government to attract international visitors even though the Easter week processions and pageants are highly photogenic and colorful. Roman soldiers mix with apostles and other biblical characters in processions all over the country.

Yet there is no mention of this fact on the tourism institute official Web site or even the site of the tourism chamber. Both sites also are low in visitors. Alexa, the affiliate, says thetourism institute site is in 177,882nd place in the world and the chamber site is in 1,106,893rd place. By contrast A.M. Costa Rica is at 69,642nd place and La Nación is in 8,044th place worldwide.

This year was seen to be one of rebound for the tourism industry, which took major hits in 2009 and 2010 due to world economic conditions. The industry still is hobbled by and unfavorable dollar-colon exchange rate and First World tourist who are not spending the way they have in the past.

There also are highly promoted and successful campaigns elsewhere in Latin America and even in the southern United States.

Many government offices are closed all next week. The Semana Santa holidays are beginning with a trickle as some vacationers managed to take today and Friday off. The big rush to the beach begins Friday afternoon. For the religious, Palm Sunday is this weekend with the beginning of Easter processions. in anticipation of Easter April 24.

Most of the vacationers will return for a normal workday April 25, and that is when hotel operators will know the degree of success

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