Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I agree small tourism is better, but less tourism is worse. One big step is to increase the length of stay allowed for snowbirds from the north.
By allowing those who are escaping the winter in North America to stay six months (rather than 90 days) you will increase the number who come here and how much they spend.
The 90-day visa requires that the person leave, likely to Nicaragua or Panamá. They may just discover they like it better, and it is a consideration for staying.
The best part is they will spend in the local economy, renting a condo for six months means they will be buying locally. They will go to the local grocery store, they will try the farmers market, and they may even sign up for Spanish classes.
When they do small trips away from their temporary home base, they are more likely to stay at a little local hotel they heard about from another expat. If they wish to take a tour, they will probably go to the tour booking office down the street, since they pass his shop nearly every day. If they travel a distance they probably use the local transfer company or the local buses, because they have had time to get comfortable with the neighborhood.
The population is aging, and tourism has to look towards this potential income and accommodate for it. If the retired parents own or rent a house in Costa Rica, it is more likely that their children, grandchildren and friends will come to visit, thus more tourist dollars in the local areas rather than the big hotels.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A.M. Costa Rica has supported editorially longer stays for snowbirds. The 2006 immigration act that is now law contained a provision for a $100 renewal of a tourist visa without leaving the country. That provision was voided based on the way the text was worded.