“We have much more than just sun and beaches,” was the proud statement by William Rodríguez, minister of tourism for Costa Rica, announcing that his country, unlike many Caribbean states, has again attained its pre-coronavirus visitor numbers.
In 2022 they totalled 2.35 million, and according to the next five year plan, this figure will rise to 3.8 million by 2027, while in no way endangering the country’s status an internationally recognised example of sustainable tourism. Germany, with 80,000 (2022) is the most important source of tourists in Europe for Costa Rica, ahead of the United Kingdom and France.
“Sustainability has to begin with education in schools”, Rodríguez asserted. Over 70 years ago Costa Rica disbanded its armed forces and now invests unneeded budgetary resources in supporting education and health. Situated between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and between Nicaragua and Panama, for many years the country has been placing the emphasis on sustainability, and now meets 99 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable resources. Rodríguez points out that tourism directly generates some 210,000 jobs, and around 400,000 indirectly. Currently in the north western province of Guanacaste, which is very popular with visitors from the USA, a number of new hotels are planned, including luxury hotels. However, this does not adversely impact on the structure of the hotel sector, of which “87 per cent consists of micro-, mini- and mid-sized establishments”.
The five year plan does not provide for a maximum number of tourists. In theory the rule is that the country cannot accommodate more tourists than it has inhabitants. “This would be around five million, but we do not want to push the boundaries.” In the final analysis it does not depend on the economic aspect but more on ecological and social sustainability. Compared with other countries in the Caribbean, in Costa Rica there is a greater emphasis on domestic and individual tourism, which the minister estimates at 35 per cent of the overall market. However, the visitor profile has changed: since the coronavirus pandemic more young people have been arriving, and they are interested in sports and adventure, “which they want to enjoy in groups”.