Costa Rica boosts effort to promote tourism

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NEW YORK -- Costa Rica's new government has declared tourism its "No. 1 priority," and one of its first acts is to draft a 10-year plan to work closely with suppliers to promote the destination.

The first step will be to address a shortage of air capacity to the country, according to Costa Rica's minister of tourism Ruben Pacheco, a hotel owner and the cousin of Costa Rica's new president, Abel Pacheco, who took office in May.

Barry Roberts, the minister's marketing advisor, said a shortage of airline seats is crippling the destination's growth.

"The planes are 90% filled, but the hotels are only at 50% capacity," Roberts said. "We have to address the disparity, so we will be backing up both charter and scheduled air [with promotional efforts]."

Roberts said the government is committed to partnering with airlines and tour operators in promotions such as billboards, direct mailings, print and online advertising, and travel agent seminars, depending on the needs of each targeted market.

Taca Airlines expanded its service into Costa Rica last month with new service to San Jose from Boston's Logan Airport and nonstop service from Los Angeles.

The Boston service stops for 45 minutes at San Salvador Airport in El Salvador.

Taca maintains daily nonstops from New York and Miami, as well as service from San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Washington and New Orleans.

On the cruise front, American Safari Cruises will begin its first full season in the destination this November aboard the 12-passenger Safari Escape.

Lori Sidawi Cabada, executive vice president at Hackensack, N.J.-based Sunny Land Tours, which recently was awarded the government's International Promoter award, said the new president has changed Costa Rica's approach to tourism.

"For the first time, [the] emphasis was on the word 'sustainable' as opposed to ecotourism," Cabada said.

"People associate the word sustainable with ecotourism and not traditional forms of tourism, but that's not correct. All forms of tourism, if handled responsibly, should be sustainable."

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