Cultural tourism becomes the industry emphasis

Expotur, the 27th annual tourism marketplace, kicks off Wednesday night, and this year cultural tourism are the watchwords.

That culture is an integral part of tourism may seem obvious, but officials this year are promoting the concept as a valuable resource.

A case in point is the carreta, the brightly colored cart that has been declared an international heritage symbol along with the boyero, the ox cart driver. As well as the cart itself, there are the shops that create the yokes and other implements that are vital to this means of travel and worth visiting.

The Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud is taking an active role in this year’s Expotur along with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The ministry said Monday that promoting cultural tourism is a government initiative and a way to strengthen the national identity.

The ministry noted that Perú and México have been in the vanguard of cultural tourism and that some experts have been invited to share their knowledge.

Manuel Obregón, the minister of Cultura y Juventud is giving a seminar of his own today at 2 p.m. on the topic. His title suggests that there is a perfect match between culture and tourism. The session will be at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura in San Antonio de Belén where the bulk of the activities will take place through Sunday.

The inauguration Wednesday, however, is at 6 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional, which is itself a cultural monument. Thursday and Friday the exhibitions by the various tourism vendors are private, but they will be open to the public at the Hotel Herradura Saturday and Sunday. Some are elaborate.

Expotur features some 300 tourism vendors from Costa Rica, Central America, Argentina and Perú this year, according to the organizer, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo. The association also said that at least 200 firms and individuals who purchase tourism services will attend. Most are from North America and about 50 percent are new to Exportur, the association said.

Vendors and buyers have opportunities to make deals in private meetings all through the week even as they attend numerous parties and receptions put on by various groups.

The association noted that Expotur was born in 1984 during a time of armed conflict elsewhere in Central America.

The culture ministry also singled out the country’s stone spheres, native crafts and pottery, music and dance among other aspects of the country’s culture that can be included in cultural tourism offerings. There also is the food from various parts of the country. The ministry has spent years documenting the various recipes of all the provinces.

The ministry’s heritage center also has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars helping owners of historical structures renovate and restore their holdings.

The ministry is expected to present these ideas with its own displays at Expotur.

In the past, the tourism institute and other government agencies promoted rural tourism. As with cultural tourism, the projects enrich the tourism experience beyond a short stay at a beach and bring tourism dollars to other parts of the country.

The Museo Nacional, an agency of the culture ministry, is developing a museum of the stone spheres in southern Costa Rica, but there are other locations, like the impressive Guayabo complex near Turrialba, that are not visited heavily by foreigners.

Exportur this year is meeting during a time of economic stress for the industry. In addition, the invasions of a small part of Costa Rica by Nicaraguan soldiers has affected tourism and sports fishing at least in that area.

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