Tourism sector continues to battle to keep airport arrival tax

Lawmakers in a committee are considering giving half of a tax that is supposed to promote the country’s tourism to national parks instead. The Cámera Nacional de Turismo considers this a grave error.

That was the message brought to lawmakers last week by María Amalia Revelo on behalf of the chamber. She works with AERIS, the company operating the country’s international airports.

The session was with the Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente where the reception was mixed.

Those who travel by air to enter the country are supposed to pay a $15 tax that goes to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The tax was created March 27, 2009, to replace a 3 percent levy on housing and other activities for tourists.

The summary for the bill said that the airport tax raised about double what the previous tax did. But the summary also noted that the tourism institute had a surplus of 10 billion colons in the first full year the tax was in force. That was 2010.  That was with an income of  $26 billion colons or about $52.5 million.

The tax raised 10.1 billion colons or about $18.6 million, almost as much as the surplus. This appears to be a reason why drafters of the bill figured that the tourism institute could get along without half the tax.

They pointed out pressing needs for the national parks, which also are visited by tourists, and noted that there are unresolved cases of expropriation of private land for national parks. The government has been slow in paying those from whom they took the land.

Curiously, the tax income for 2010 only represents the arrival of about 1.2 million air passengers, far lower than what has been reported.

The tourism institute said that 1,417,980 international tourists arrived by air that year. And even Costa Ricans are supposed to pay the tax.

The argument that the tourism institute needs the money for promotion found disagreement with at least one member of the committee.

José Ramírez Aguilar of Frente Amplio said that marketing and promotion are not indispensable, according to a summary of the committee session provided by staffers.

He said that responses to questionnaires at the airports show that most of those who visit Costa Rica do so based on recommendations by friends of family members, said the summary.

Coincidentally, tourism officials and operators are meeting today in an effort to create an improved marketing image for the country. The event is part of the XVIII Congreso Nacional de Turismo.

Since May 8 the minister of tourism has been a professional who actually operates a company. The principal promotional activities of the institute include setting up booths at various tourism fairs worldwide and buying expensive space during the Winter Olympics on television and during the World Cup soccer championships. At the meeting today two representatives of the Atlanta, Georgia, agency that set up the Facebook talking sloth campaign are supposed to appear.

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