Wilhelm von Breymann
Wilhelm von Breymann was appointed Costa Rica's Minister of Tourism last May, becoming both the first openly gay minister in Latin America, and, as a co-owner of several tourism businesses, the first Costa Rican tourism minister to come from the travel industry. Destinations Editor Johanna Jainchill talked to von Breymann about Costa Rica's new tourism campaign, "Save the Americans," as well as the significance of his appointment.
Q: Congratulations on being the first openly gay minister in Latin America. How significant is your appointment?
A: Something beautiful about our country is that we respect other people's way of living. I haven't had any problems at all. In fact, it has been very positive and shows again Costa Rica as being one of the leaders in Latin America for having somebody openly gay in the government, and there is no problem about it. They put me there not because I'm gay, but because of my experience in tourism.
Q: Will you use your post to promote more LGBT tourism to Costa Rica?
A: Costa Rica has always been open to the [gay] community. People can come and travel around the country, gay or not gay, white, black or Chinese, fat or thin, it doesn't matter. ... It has been that way for a long, long time.
Q: Does it add to your position that you are the first to come from within the travel and tourism industry?
A: It helps a lot. I understand the industry, and I started from zero. I understand very well the tour guides, the drivers, the tour operators, the hoteliers. ... People are very happy that somebody from the industry is the minister. I have been in the business for 30 years; I'm not a politician and I don't know too much about politics.
Q: Where did the idea come from for your new campaign to "Save the Americans"?
A: We investigated how many vacation days they have and how many days they were not using. There are millions of days they are not taking for vacation. The investigation also found there were a lot of problems due to work such as stress-related health problems. We thought we could let them know that Costa Rica is a wonderful place to come; it's close, it's very safe, and we have a big diversity of places to go to relax. Then they can go back with batteries charged and start working again. It's been very well-received. We were skeptical and afraid, but the whole campaign is made by Americans and for Americans. When we are targeting a certain niche, we need to think as they do. Our humor could be a little different than Americans'. We can't take it to Europe and say "Save the Europeans"; they have another type of humor.
Q: Costa Rica has long been popular and has almost reached a point of maturity. How will it maintain its popularity in Central America when places like Nicaragua and Panama are stepping up?
A: We think that competition is very good. It will mean everyone has to be more strategic in what they do and how they do it. Any country in the rest of the world will need to do a lot of work to achieve what Costa Rica has in sustainability. This will not happen overnight. You need a lot of investment, money and the time to do it. We encourage our neighbors to build up and welcome tourism -- hopefully in a very sustainable way, because it will be a region that people will look to travel, hopefully a sustainable region. We will continue to be No. 1 but will try to help any other country that wants to step in, sustainably.