Percentage of North American tourists declines

Over the last six years there has been a fundamental shift in the tourism market. The percentage of visitors from North America has declined while the percent of visitors from Central America and South America has increased.

Based on figures from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, North American visitors made up 53 percent of the tourists in 2005. Visitors from Central America and South America were just 30 percent of the 1.7 million total.

But by 2010 North Americans declined to 48 percent, and Central and South Americans increased to 38 percent of the 2.1 million visitors.

Visitors from Europe declined a single percentage over those years from 14 to 13 percent.

The bulk of the Central American visitors came from Nicaragua, according to the institute’s figures.

Although the number of North American visitors increased over the six years from 895,370 to 1,005,309, the increase was just about 110,000 tourists, far fewer than could populate the many new hotels and tourist destinations.

In 2008 when the tourism institute was honoring a New Jersey family as the 2 millionth visitor, only 976,561 came from North America, according to the figures.

The North American figures include México, which contributed about 50,000 tourists in each of the years. The remainder are tourists from Canada and the United States. The statistical situation is complicated further by those expats who are perpetual tourists and leave the country every 90 days to renew their visas and because nearly everyone coming from Costa Rica for whatever reason enters on a tourism visa.

The tourism institute had been shy about releasing the figures which originate with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería until this week. The general impression was that Costa Rica was receiving around 2 million tourists from the First World. New visa categories in the year-old immigration law are expected to clarify the situation.

The numbers figure into the current debate in which a new organization, ProTur, seeks a declaration of a tourism emergency.

That point of view is opposed by established tourism groups that say doing so would cast the industry here in a bad light. In a news release, the groups said that a declaration of emergency would
deteriorate the image of Costa Rica, close lines of credit, stop investments, increase the cost of operations and sow insecurity among employees. The industry has about 110,000 workers and perhaps 400,000 indirect workers, the groups said.

The groups are the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, the Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles, the Cámara Nacional de Restaurantes, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo, the Asociación Costarricense de Operadores en Turismo, the Asociación Costarricense de Agencias de Viaje and the Red Nacional de Pequeños Hoteles.
In fact, the organizations said that tourism is up 8 percent in the first four months of the year.

ProTur said it seeks reductions in utility rates for the tourism industry and flexibility by banks and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The
press release Tuesday said that the Caja, which collects social security payments on employees, has new methods to avoid emergency situations like payment plans. The groups also said that banks are showing some understanding.

Instead of an emergency declaration, the groups said that the country needs to push training and development of the human talent and seek greater investment by the government in areas of infrastructure and security as well as the economic aspects of the U.S. dollar exchange rate and passage of a general law of tourism.

The central government has not responded to the call for an emergency declaration, but some lawmakers have expressed support for ProTur’s ideas.

The tourism institute supported a new $15 head tax on tourists who enter by air. A lot of the institute’s budget is supposed to be promotion of the country, but over the last five years the institute was tapped to help field the new tourism police. The institute also is bankrolling a new swimming pool complex for Puntarenas and will kick in $10 million for a proposed convention center.

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