Monteverde tourism operators blame bad road for ills

Monteverde tourism operators are blaming a decline in visitors on the bad state of the access road. Time was when residents of the cloud forest community took pride in their rough road as something protecting the community from the pressures of outside civilization.

But no more. The national tourism chamber is taking up the Monteverde cause and urging the central government to fix the road, which only recently had been asphalted.

The chamber, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, sought opinions from those in the tourism business in Monteverde and reported Tuesday that the business is down from 15 to 20 percent when compared to 2011. Some also mentioned that the cost of doing business is higher there because of the distance goods must travel.

The chamber quoted Ólger Vega, owner of Monteverde Extremo Canopy, who said that to bring in a cubic yard of sand costs three times as much because of the distance and the state of the road.

Danny Ramírez, president of the Cámara de Turismo de Monteverde, was quoted as saying the community has lost its competitivity in the face of rising costs. He said tourists seek locations where they can arrive quickly.

The peaceful community staged a protest June 10 because the Contraloría General de la República rejected a contract for repaving a road.

The community that was founded by Quakers in the 1950s is known for its cloud forests and bird watching opportunities.

To some extent the complaints about the roads and fewer tourists is just an example that illustrates the condition of tourism in general in Costa Rica. Many tourism operators would be thrilled at having 80 percent of the customers they serviced in 2011.

Monteverde has, according to the chamber, 80 firms offering lodging, 50 that offer tours and recreation, 43 food places, 30 nature guides and 18 souvenir shops.

Elsewhere there are hotels where the owners simply closed up and left due to the economic pressures and few tourists.

Some tourism operators blame excessive competition particularly in the hotel business. They note that the economic crisis that began in 2009 had not eased as much as many expected.

The situation actually spawned a more aggressive tourism association than the traditional Cámara Nacional de Turismo. This is ProTur, the Asociacion Para La Proteccion Del Turismo En Costa Rica. The 2-year-old group’s Facebook page  is more explicit in outlining the problems in the industry. For example, the concern Tuesday was the exchange rate with the dollar and the fear that the dollar’s value might dip lower. Most tourism operators receive payment in dollars and have to pay salaries and expenses in colons. The Facebook postings noted that massive money laundering has lowered the value of the dollar here.

ProTur posters also are not kind to government officials, including those in the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  It is the tourism institute that puts out the glowing statistics about the number of visitors. For example, for 2012 the institute crowed that there were 2.3 million foreign arrivals to Costa Rica, more than in 2012. That is a 6.1 percent increase. But nowhere is there a distinction made between tourists and those here on other business.

A close look at the figures shows that only a bit more than 920,000 arrivals were U.S. citizens and a bit less than 152,000 came from Canada. Canadians, U.S. visitors and arrivals from all of Europe represented just 57.9 percent of the total. Central America provided 721,000 arrivals with Nicaragua providing 20.2 percent of all arrivals. One-day visitors from cruise ships also are counted as arrivals.

The tourism institute placed a major bet on a talking sloth campaign engineered by an Atlanta, Georgia, firm, 22Squared, which is a fan of the social media. The latest campaign presents a slick video to U.S. movie audiences.

There never has been any material released by the tourism agency evaluating the effectiveness of the sloth campaign or explaining why it would not put its money into luring online movie viewers who would seem to be more affluent.

Meanwhile, the institute’s own Web page in English is in 210,138th place worldwide, according to Alexa, the company that measures Internet viewers. The sloth campaign did not appear to have much impact.

However, the Cámera de Turismo Web page where many members place their advertising dollars is much lower at 494,428th place.

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