Rescue plan for tourism debtors moves ahead

Small and medium hotels and restaurants in the tourism business will get a chance to refinance their debts stemming from the economic downturn from 2008 to 2011, according to a bill that advanced Thursday.

This is the proposal to help an estimated 100 tourism operations that went into debt and may even have been brought to court by creditors.

The Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo approved the measure, No. 19.650, and sent it to the full legislature.

There are plenty of strings, according to the bill. The business ventures must be officially enrolled as micro, small or medium enterprises with the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio, although there is a plan for provisional enrollment.

The ventures must be at least 70 days behind on their debts stemming from the economic downturn. Newly acquired debt less than three years old is not counted.

The businesses only are eligible for loans to cover a third of the outstanding debt up to $175,000 each.  Application must be made within three months of the bill’s passage.

The business still must meet requirements for repayment.

The bill specifies that eligible businesses must be hotels or restaurants.

In all, the bill allocated $13.5 million for the rescue effort. Some $3.5 million is loaned to the Fideicomiso Nacional de Desarrollo by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The balance, $10 million, is a line of credit from the Banca para el Desarrollo.

The loan rate is the bank rate plus 2 percent. The loan terms are up to eight years.

The tourism operations probably will not see any of the money. The lending agencies, banks, cooperatives and such will simply make a book entry to adjust the debt.

Any money owed to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social will go directly to that institution, the bill says.

There also is a plan for the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje to provide management training for the businesses that are involved.

This has been a controversial program, but not Thursday. Even Movimiento Libertario lawmaker José Alberto Alfaro Jiménez urged quick passage by the full legislature, according to a summary from the committee.

The Turismo minister, Mauricio Ventura, and the Economía, Industria y Comercio minister, Welmert Ramos, have both appeared to support the bill, said the summary.

Supporters of the bill said that the 100 firms that would be beneficiaries of this legislation provide direct or indirect employment for 5,000 persons, mostly in rural areas.

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