A new survey report by the national tourism chamber showed that even in the most popular areas hotel occupancy was below 50 percent during December and January.
Those months are considered the peak of the high season and this also is the time youngsters are out of school and Costa Rican families are likely to go on vacation.
The survey results showed that the situation was even more grim on the Caribbean coast, the northern zone and the central Valley where occupancy was under 30 percent.
The Cámera Nacional de Turismo surveyed 152 hospitality firms all over the country during February. The firms represent 5,600 hotel rooms, the chamber said.
Despite the results, the chamber said that 40.6 percent of the respondents characterized tourism as normal and that only 6.6 percent said it was very bad.
As is typical, less expensive hotels and other hospitality operations attracted the highest number of customers. One-star hotels reported 56.2 percent occupancy, and two-star operations reported 44.1 percent.
Smaller operations also seemed to be preferred with those with 50 to 100 rooms reporting a 62.8 percent occupancy. Hotels with 200 or more rooms said the occupancy rate was just 15.6 percent.
The larger and more expensive operations are those that cater to foreign tourists, who appear to be in short supply this year.
The survey shows that hospitality operators perhaps were over optimistic last December when they estimated their occupancy for the Christmas season. At the time a survey of 142 operations showed the company officials anticipated 76 percent occupancy.
A chamber survey of occupancy from December 2011 to last March showed a rate of 70.5 percent.
The tourism industry has been hard hit by world economic conditions. But the central government also sees tourists as a source of income and has increased various taxes. For example, the tax to leave the country now is $29, which means a family of five would have to pay $145 just to pass through a national airport.
In addition, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has been paying for the Policía de Turismo under an agreement with the security ministry.
Arecent study by the INCAE Business School said that the industry had a weak strategy.
The tourism institute came in for criticism online in the Web site of the new Asociacion Para La Proteccion Del Turismo en Costa Rica for plastering the subways in Madrid, Spain, with photos of a tropical bird that does not even live in Costa Rica. The campaign cost $300,000.
An earlier campaign featuring a talking sloth and trip giveaways did not seem to have much impact in tourism numbers.
Tourism operators themselves also seem to be challenged in promotion and seem to rely on cheaper, less effective marketing techinques.