March 16, 2023

Tourism improving the quality of life for Costa Ricans

Tourism is the number one economic activity in Costa Rica, and for William Rodríguez, Minister of Tourism, the sooner the tourism industry gets back to pre-Covid levels, the better

ITB Berlin spoke with William Rodríguez in an exclusive interview at ITB Berlin 2023.

How did you find the people at ITB Berlin responded to Costa Rica’s message?
My perception is that for the first in-person ITB Berlin after the pandemic, the response has been terrific. I’m basing my personal perceptions on the activity of the private sector and the interviews and the conversations I have had, asking how they are doing, what visits they have had and so on, and the answers have been really positive. I think we have been doing very well at this moment here in Berlin. 

What is your approach regarding the expansion of air connections from Europe to Costa Rica?
Actually we are not looking for new connections in the near future. We are rather trying to increase frequencies of existing routes to Costa Rica. We have seven airlines flying non-stop from major European airports such as Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, London and Zurich, and due to the problems they have had with equipment and crews, it is very difficult right now to get more flights. What we can try to do is persuade the airlines to make a decision to change for bigger equipment and improve efficiency. New operations are a little bit more difficult. We have two in mind, but to be honest it usually takes two to three years to develop from the first idea to the final decision.

What are some specific goals you would like to accomplish as Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister? 
For countries like us, that offer a kind of boutique destination, the World Travel Organisation says that we will get back to the numbers of 2019 by 2024 or 2025.  We are doing the best we can to get there in 2023. I’ve revised the numbers, they just came in from Costa Rica for the first two months of 2023, and I think we are going to accomplish that goal by the end of the year, because we are doing very well.  YtoY arrivals are now only at 1.8% less than in 2019 for January and February 2023. 

The second is, after the pandemic, small enterprises dedicated to tourism struggled a lot with the financial situation, and one of my goals when I arrived in the position was to get a credit line specially for micro and small enterprises. And we’ve got it already. Thanks to the national banking system, in December of last year we got a special credit line for those enterprises, micro, small and medium, and that goal has been accomplished.  

And the third goal is how to visualise the social part of tourism rather than only seeing the economic part. When we talk about tourism, we usually talk about the number of dollars or strong currency coming to Costa Rica, the number of jobs in Costa Rica and so on. Of the 32 tourist destinations we have in Costa Rica, only 6 or 7 are in the central valley where the country’s economy is concentrated, the rest are located in the more remote coastal areas. Thanks to tourism, people in these areas are now living better, they can send their children to university and have a better living standard, and I want to visualise that. I want to avoid thinking only about the economic side of tourism and also think about the social side: how tourism is improving the quality of life of Costa Ricans thanks to our activities. 

How important is tourism for Costa Rica today?
It’s the number one economic activity in Costa Rica. 8% of the GDP is produced thanks to tourism. It is very important for our country. And if we are struggling with some situations, all of the country is going to be in the same boat, so as soon as we get to 2019 numbers, the better for the whole country.    

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