On Saturday, August 1, 2020 a new phase began in the government’s plan for tourism in Costa Rica, which will alternate openings and closings as a way of finding a balance between public health and the health of the economy.

Costa Rica received its first international commercial flight in four and a half months on August 3rd, 2020. This is the first of a small number of flights planned to come into the country since a state of national emergency was declared by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

A gradual opening is being proposed with a limited number of flights coming into Costa Rica from the European Union, United Kingdom and Canada. The hope is that this limited reopening of the borders will bring optimism to the micro and small companies that depend on tourism in Costa Rica while taking measures to keep safe the Costa Rican population in these pandemic times.

A negative COVID-19 PCR test from within 48 hours of flight time is requested of all passengers and crew members. Passengers and crew must wear masks in the terminals and on the flight, as well as keeping social distance where possible. Travel insurance is also mandatory to cover accommodation in case of quarantine and medical expenses for acute illness. Those arriving in Costa Rica are asked to fill out an epidemiological form and receive temperature measurements.

As an exception to the rule, the Costa Rican Health Chamber donated 13 PCR tests to the tourists on this first flight, which came from Spain, who did not meet this requirement in their approach. The test was applied upon arrival on Costa Rican soil and an isolation order was issued for 24 hours until the test showed a negative result.

A New Style of Tourism

Mass tourism will likely be a thing of the past and Costa Rica is changing its efforts to take better advantage of the country’s natural riches for this new tourism paradigm. The National Chamber of Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism of Costa Rica (Canaeco) indicated that the country is ahead on this front, having declared 25% of its territory to be national parks and 50% of Costa Rica’s landmass already reforested. Costa Rica also boasts a national energy grid that runs on almost 99% renewable energy annually, for which it is internationally acclaimed.

The first big change that tourism in Costa Rica will experience is the need to guarantee sanitary security and protocols for tourists to feel protected. There will also be an increased demand for small lodgings, less crowded destinations, high expectations for clean and open environments, and private experiences. Tourists will be thinking more about how the dollar they invest benefits the communities they reach. Therefore, it will be important to show how different community sectors participate in tourism activities and the impact of the ecological footprint it generates.

Opportunity for Wellness Tourism

The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created a golden opportunity for rural tourism entrepreneurs, especially those who can offer a wellness experience. There is a large niche of tourists willing to pay for these services and Costa Rica has great opportunities to project its strength in this area.

Treatment centers, spas and tourist activities such as open-air experiences that take place on organic farms, chocolate or coffee tours, hot springs and forest baths are just some of the quality tourism experience that Costa Rica already has on offer. Companies that feature this natural potential will likely find that they have the biggest draw for tourism. Quality will be the differentiating element.

Differentiation is key

Mauricio Ventura, former Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica and President of Sinergia Consulting Group, says that the reactivation of the tourism sector is an essential issue. Opening of airports and aid to entrepreneurs are a start but we must look further.

“COVID-19 transformed everything and makes us think that it is time to take advantage of the crisis. There are three phases: rescue companies, guaranteeing access to sources of capital; implement sanitary protocols permanently; and promote a national tourism campaign.”

It will be essential that Costa Rica take advantage of the biodiversity, culture and the offers of small and medium-sized companies to attract tourists. Mr. Ventura suggests that the future tourism trends in Costa Rica are likely be:

  • Sanitary and biosecurity protocols in the facilities
  • Small lodgings and boutique hotels
  • Personalized gastronomic experiences
  • Personalized tours in social bubbles
  • Incorporation of technology to avoid contact with objects
  • Humanize experiences
  • Show the social impact of the operation on the communities and the ecological footprint
  • Less crowded destinations
  • Outings in less crowded seasons
  • Green tourism with sustainable certifications

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