U.S. putting out red carpet for potential Costa Rican tourists

Uncle Sam wants You to be a tourist. That is if you are Costa Rican.

The United States will be among the exhibitors at the Centro de Convenciones at the Hotel Herradura Feb. 8 to 10 for the  Expoviajes 2013 tourism fair.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy here has simplified the application and approval process for potential foreign tourists. No longer is there a mandatory telephone call to make an appointment and the wait is supposed to be two days.

Applications are being done online, including setting a quick appointment for a personal interview at the embassy.

The embassy Web site spells out the procedures.

Banks and other lenders will have a presence at the tourism fair, too, so that would-be travelers can learn of the financing options, said organizers.

Feb. 8 is by invitation to certain firms involved in tourism. The fair is open to the public Feb. 9 and 10 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Embassy officials said that 86 percent of the Costa Rican applicants are approved to travel to the United States and the waiting period for an appointment is just two days, said a release announcing the tourism fair.

There is no doubt that the U.S. Embassy has improved the way it is handling visa seekers. In the past, Costa Ricans had to stand outside in the rain and hot sun awaiting entry to the embassy. Now there is a covered waiting area inside the embassy along with electronic machines providing numbers for various procedures. The use of the Internet continues to reduce the waiting list.

Participating with the embassy at the tourism show will be U.S. hotels and airlines. The date is well in advance of  Semana Santa, which is a top travel time and is the last week
of March this year. There still is plenty of snow in the Rockies at that time of year and spring is coming to much of the rest of the country.

Tourism to the United States has been affected by heavy-handed Immigration and Customs Enforcement inspectors and the world economic downturn. So the U.S. State Department has a mandate to encourage tourism to the United States.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that there were 860,000 tourists from Central America in 2011.

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