The tourism industry is reeling under triple blows that may force operators to pay crippling amounts of back sales tax.
The situation developed April 30 when the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía published a decree increasing the admission to national parks and other protected areas under its control.
Costa Ricans and residents continue to pay a modest amount, usually about 1,000 colons a person. But the admission for tourists went up from 2,000 to 4,000 colons a bit less than $4 to $8, depending on the location. Entrance to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio now is $16 a person.
In addition, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo said that sales tax is being assessed on these admission prices for the first time.
Then it appears that sales tax is being assessed on all types of tourism operations. The tourism chamber plans to outline the specifics of the new taxes today at a press conference, but the organization said that the tourism industry is being affected strongly by the assessment of taxes on activities such as canopy tours, nature walks, rafting and even SCUBA diving.
The chamber said that these news taxes stem from a new interpretation of the general sales tax law. Section C provides for sales tax on night clubs, social centers, centers of recreation and similar. The section now is being interpreted as assessing sales tax on every recreational activity.
The tourism chamber is joined by the Asociación Costarricense de Operadores de Turismo in protesting these taxes.
The complaint reached the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday when Rolando González Ulloa complained that the sales tax legislation did not contemplate assessing the levy retroactively.
The lawmaker from the Partido Liberación Nacional said he had been in contact with Pablo Heriberto Abarca Mora, president of the tourism chamber.
He attributed the new taxes to Decree 38295 issued by the environmental ministry. He contended that protected areas are not included in the types of locations that originally were listed in the law. He accused the environmental ministry of illegitimately trying to collect this tax from tours, something that is not contemplated in the law.
He said the tourism operators were facing retroactive tax collections for 384 months.
President Luis Guillermo Solís was known to have met privately Tuesday afternoon with representatives of the Ministerio de Hacienda, the parent agency of the Dirección General de Tributación, the tax collector.
The tourism chamber said that the environmental ministry correctly notes that the tax decree was from the Laura Chinchilla administration.
In a statement, the tourism chamber president, Abarca, said that the industry already was on its knees.