Tourism operators bemoan investment insecurity

Representatives of the tourism industry have called upon the legislature to take action to clear up some of the investment insecurity that comes from Costa Rica’s uneven enforcement of laws.

In other countries companies can be put into operation in days, but in Costa Rica it becomes a process of months, and when finally they are operating some authority appears saying that some anomaly exists and the business ought to be closed, said Ana Saborío, president of the Cámara de Turismo de Guanacaste.

The statement was made before the Comisión Permanente de Turismo and reported by the Cámara Nacional de Turismo.

As a result of what the representatives called legal insecurity, those who might invest in the tourism sector are reluctant, they said. The condition of tourism operations in Costa Rica now are such that many hotel owners are seeking a buyer or an investor. The uncertainty involved with doing business here is not an incentive for outside investors, the representative said.

Also on their minds were the current rate of exchange between the colon and the U.S. dollar and the slow recovery to the heydays of 2008.

The chamber representatives also urged lawmakers to pass a bill to accept a $19 million loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo to finance tourism in protected forest areas. Such a loan would improve conditions n some of the national parks, they said. Some lawmakers have objected to the bill and its fate is uncertain.

The loan would inject investments in protected areas of the country to permit better conditions for visitors to enjoy, said Juan Carlos Ramos of the Cámera Nacional. It is sad that this has become a project that is being archived because the measure has great benefit for the country, he added.

Tourism representatives came from the Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles. the Cámara de Turismo Rural Comunitario and other regional groups, as well as the Guanacaste and national chambers.

All agreed that despite a reported increase in the arrival of tourists in 2010, the industry still was behind 2008 earnings.

One reason is the exchange rate. For today, the Banco Central de Costa Rica says that one U.S. dollar will bring 497.72 colons, and it will cost 508.6 colons to purchase a dollar.

These numbers are not far from the 2008 rates. On June 29, 2008, one U.S. dollar would buy 516.34 colons and 522.76 colons would be required to purchase one dollar. The difference ranges from 2.7 to 3.6 percent.

However, there has been inflation since then, and visitors are less likely to spend money freely at the lower exchange rate. Most in the industry agree that tourists are most cost-conscious now.

A 20-room hotel renting rooms at $80 a night would lose 38 million colons a year over 2008 income due to the exchange rate, lawmakers were told. That is about $76,000.

The exchange rate concerns also were echoed by ProTur, a new group that formed to seek legislative benefits for the industry. In some ways the Cámera Nacional is playing catchup.

ProTur has been more aggressive. The group sought special utility rates and other special benefits, but there has been no action to do so in the legislative chamber.

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