Liberia airport hopes to receive 31,000 tourists after fully opening borders to the United States

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Costa Rica will open its borders to the entire United States on November 1, announced Minister of Tourism Gustavo Segura, at the press conference on Friday, October 2. In other words, any tourist can travel from that country to Costa Rican soil.

The decision would mean a radical change from the cautious gradual reopening to tourists through the Liberia airport and also opens the doors for creating employment.

According to data from Coriport, only 269 passengers entered the country during the first month since commercial flights resumed.

With fully opening up to the U.S., 380 flights and 31,000 passengers are expected to arrive at the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia during the last two months of the year, Cesar Jaramillo, manager of the terminal administration company, Coriport, specified to The Voice of Guanacaste.

That number is significantly lower than what was reported between November and December of 2019, when 122,468 international tourists arrived at the Guanacaste airport, according to data from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).

Jaramillo said these projections are based on statistics from the two airlines that resumed operations at the Liberia airport (United and American) and six more that will resume their commercial flights as a result of opening fully to the United States.

With this expansion, eight airlines will be operating in Liberia during peak tourist season, with flights from 12 North American cities. Newark and Houston are already running, Miami and Dallas will begin on October 8 and 10, and eight more will be announced later.

Houston and Dallas are in the state of Texas, whose residents are not yet allowed to enter Costa Rica. However, both places run connecting flights and bring passengers from other states that are authorized.

They can do it as long as they don’t leave the airport,” Jaramillo explained.

The government’s decision to fully open up to the U.S. takes into consideration that no tourists have been reported as carriers infected with COVID-19 since the gradual reopening of commercial flights, Segura said. “International tourism has a low epidemiological risk,” he added.

During the conference, the minister also said that they still aren’t authorizing all countries because “the process has to follow a gradual line.”

“We are taking today’s (Friday, October 2) measure based on the results from two months of a pilot laboratory process [of the behavior of visitors from authorized countries and states]. The process has to continue but we must continue to be prudent and analytical,” he stated.

On March 18, 2020, Costa Rica closed air and land borders to foreign visitors. This is how the corridors of Daniel Oduber International Airport looked during Easter week. Photo: Mari Arango

A Turning Point in the Cautious Reopening 

In Guanacaste,  about 10,467 people are employed in accommodation and food services, according to data for the second quarter of this year from the Continuous Employment Survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC). This figure dropped by more than 56% during the last year due to the pandemic.

According to projections from the Ministry of Planning (Mideplan), fully opening up to the United States will create 80,000 jobs throughout the country by 2021.

That is why Jaramillo considers the U.S. market to be so relevant in order to turn the zero season around not only for Guanacaste but also for the entire national tourism industry.

If we don’t achieve a decent peak season– I’m not saying extraordinary, I’m saying decent– then many businesses are going to fail, many people aren’t going to be able to find employment,” he said.

The president of the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism (CATURGUA) and general manager of the Westin Playa Conchal, Hernan Binaghi, agrees. “The opening contributes to generating a bit of movement and to the mental part [referring to the mood of those who work in tourism] with the idea that you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is very faint,” he said, because during a normal December, about 90,000 tourists would visit Guanacaste, he affirmed.

“Very few come now and it is concerning that it doesn’t begin to improve,” he added.

After 170 days without commercial operations, Daniel Oduber airport resumed commercial flights on September 5 with the arrival of 68 passengers from Newark, N.Y. Since then, a flight has arrived from that city every Saturday and since September 13, three flights have been coming from Houston, Texas, both on United Airlines.

Between then and October 2, 269 passengers (193 from Newark and 76 from Houston) arrived in Guanacaste through the Liberia airport, according to Coriport data.

The gradual reopening to American cities is not significantly benefiting tourism in the region. “The Newark flight is behaving as we expected. The flights from a hub (those that come from Houston and Dallas) are doing very badly. They bring very few tourists],” Jaramillo observed.

Binaghi, from CATURGUA, also thinks that fear of traveling during the pandemic and the requirements imposed by the country are slowing the arrival of tourists, but the characteristics of the province are a great attraction. “We have a very low population density and a city-free environment.”

He also reported that they hold follow-up meetings with other tourism chambers, with the ICT and with airlines to assess the possibility of airlines offering tests when boarding the plane and of the government modifying the requirement of requesting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 72 hours in advance.

“It is complicated for tourists to get it and the costs are high,” he stated.

Entry Requirements

As of November 1, visitors must meet three requirements:

  • Complete the epidemiological digital form called the Health Pass.
  • Take the PCR test and get a negative result. The test must be taken a maximum of 72 hours before the flight to Costa Rica departs.
  • Obtain mandatory travel insurance that covers accommodations in case of quarantine and medical expenses. It can be international or purchased from Costa Rican insurers.

Those who enter before that date have to meet an additional requirement: demonstrate by means of a driver’s license or ID that they live in one of the states whose residents are authorized to enter.

Currently the states authorized are New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, Rhode Island, California and Ohio. As of October 15, Florida, Georgia and Texas are added.

Costa Rica also allows the entry of people who live in 44 other countries.