Tourism appears to have recovered nicely after the worldwide recession. Tourists are not only coming in greater numbers but they are spending more. But all is not so rosy — although tourism was up last year 34% more than it was in 2009, prices in colones for electricity, gasoline and other unavoidable costs are up. And increased competition for those tourists is also stiffer. Of course, the Central Bank has put forth noble (and so far successful) efforts to keep the dollar-colon exchange rate stable, but prices have soared in colon terms. And an added hazard adds a grim note for the future — increased crime. At least one hotel on the Caribbean slope closed after tourists were briefly held at gunpoint and robbed of their personal valuables. (Robbers Hit Caribbean Hotel.) At another hotel, the owner and his son were murdered. Such incidents do not aid the country’s reputation as a visitor’s paradise, even though they are admittedly rare. In fact, despite these headline events, the frequency of murder is down. Most of the tourists in 2012 were North American and this raises another worry for the future: Is the European Union going to pull out of its flat-lining economic outlook any time soon? Granted, this has hurt tourist industries in other nations closer to Europe more than it has here. For Gustavo Araya, vice president of the Hotel Chamber, the country’s good name can be damaged if infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports) enter a decline. “In our country,” he says, “there are long delays in making decisions and this may impact strongly on the hotel industry.” Araya also sees a poor distribution of hotels in the country. “We about reached the saturation point for rooms in the central Valley,” he says, and the government must focus more on coastal areas. But the Tourism Institute (ICT) has tapped a new market. For the first time, the country participated in the Beijing tourism fair this week, angling for the country whose growth rate (10% or more annually) has been the greatest in history over the past decade. The growth rate of Chinese tourists seeing the rest of the world is phenomenal: It increased from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million last year. If Costa Rica can tap into that number, its last year’s tourism earnings of $2.4 billion will look like peanuts.
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