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How the Liberia airport is recovering pre-pandemic number of passengers

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Arianna Hernández

Daniel Oduber International Airport, in Liberia, welcomed almost the same number of passengers in June as it reported in the same month in 2019, before the pandemic. While 90,501 people traveled on international flights in 2019 during June, 89,124 did so this year in the same month (a large majority from the United States and only a few from the Netherlands).

“We’re proud to see that our goal of placing Guanacaste as a first-line destination has become a reality,” said Cesar Jaramillo, general manager of Coriport, the airport’s authorized operator. “These statistics are encouraging. A year ago, we had an open airport with no operation.”

The president of the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism (CATURGUA- Cámara de Turismo de Guanacaste), Hernan Binaghi, considers these to be good omens. “But we shouldn’t think that everything’s fixed. Rather, it’s a very big help in recovery,” he pointed out.

We need to see that it’s consistent and see that the coming months remain the same,” added Binaghi.

Visitation numbers have been increasing steadily since February, according to visitation statistics. At that time, Daniel Oduber had a 78% drop in visitation compared to the same month in 2019. The margin of difference has been reducing each month.

Innovation in its operations, international recognitions and expanding flight frequencies and routes are some of the characteristics that have marked the resumption flights at the Guanacaste terminal since September 5, 2020. Some of the characteristics are listed below :

  1. Pioneers and Innovators

The Liberia airport was ahead of the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose in making a lab available inside the airport  for its passengers to take COVID-19 tests, in alliance with Laboratorios Echandi.

They did that to reduce people’s uncertainty when traveling from Guanacaste, which had a slow start in availability, ease and affordable prices for testing to detect the novel coronavirus. “It was an element that could make someone have doubts about traveling,” said Jaramillo.

The airport terminal opened the lab in March of 2021 for PCR and antigen diagnostics, while Juan Santamaria set up the service in May. Passengers at both terminals can take these tests according to the requirements of their destination countries. In addition, they set up a website to schedule an appointment online at https://covid.morphotr.com. It can also be done without an appointment.

According to Jaramillo, between 20 and 25% of departing passengers get tests done at the terminal lab.

  1. International Recognitions

Recognitions of the country and even the airport keep it on the spectrum of preferred places to travel.

Costa Rica ranks fourth on the list of countries with the best perception as a safe destination to travel to during the summer of 2021, and has the best perception of any country in the Americas. The study that backs this up was published this year in April by The Blueroom Project in Spain.

This year, Daniel Oduber Airport received two awards and one recognition from the Airport Service Quality Awards program of the Airports Council International (ACI).

One of the awards, for the third year in a row, was for the best airport in Latin America and the Caribbean in customer service, in the 2 million passenger category, which highlights quality, safety and hospitality.

It also received the award in the category of Best Hygiene Measures in the region, for compliance with health and safety protocols in favor of its passengers and collaborators.

And finally, it was one of five to receive recognition in Latin America in the category The Voice of the Customer, which recognizes the commitment to listen to passengers and adapt processes to meet the expectations of the customer experience in response to the pandemic.

To this, the Coriport manager added the country’s efforts to establish protocols for the entire tourism production chain (tourism, hotels, airports, transportation…), and for the population in complying with them.

  1. More Routes, Greater Frequency

Currently, the airport offers more routes and frequency of trips compared to 2019, mainly from the United States.

A total of 25 routes operate in the terminal, the Coriport manager specified. During the second semester, Denver, Colorado (Southwest) and Austin, Texas (American Airlines) will be added.

There is also a flight from Amsterdam, which first lands in Alajuela and then goes to Liberia before returning to the Netherlands.

“We’re missing the Canadian and British airlines,” Jaramillo said. “Right now, we have to be cautious. We’re not going to lower our guard on health issues.”

The airport resumed flights in September of 2020, when the Costa Rican government announced the possibility of travelers entering the country from the United States. Photo: ICT.
  1. Guanacaste as a Diverse Destination

In addition to airport-related factors, there’s also the essence of Guanacaste, a province that offers a variety of tourism possibilities: cultural, gastronomic and contact with nature.

Jaramillo sums it up this way: “Guanacaste is many things. It’s beaches, mountains, plains, mangroves, and there’s the whole cultural part.”

Add to this the value of its proximity to other destinations outside the province, such as the Nicoya Peninsula, which is home to beaches like Santa Teresa and Malpais, as well as Monteverde in Puntarenas, La Fortuna in Alajuela and even southern Nicaragua. 

“The airport is a very strong development engine and the fact that it can recover traffic soon means economic and social well-being for this entire area of ​​the country,” said Jaramillo.

Challenges Pending

The Liberia airport still has pending challenges for its operations to rebound. One is the promise made in 2019 to operate 24/7, since they currently close from midnight to 4 a.m.

We’re ready,” Jaramillo said. “It’s a big benefit for the country because we’d become a perfect alternative to San Jose (Juan Santamaría).”

According to Jaramillo, the decision would come from government authorities.

From his point of view, another challenge is to take greater advantage of the possibility of imports and exports. “We have a high-level cargo terminal with all the permits and services. Interested people can come to ask how much it costs to send and receive anything from spare parts, jewelry and high technology to fine agribusiness,” he added.

Jaramillo didn’t specify the change in the number of people working at the airport at the time of the interview, although he said it might be a little less than in 2019.

The challenge of recovering the volume of passengers is still pending for the Juan Santamaria International Airport, in Alajuela, since it reported 50% less travelers in June compared to the same month in 2019.

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