LATAM e-News – Special Edition Costa Rica
Interview: Mauricio Ventura

Interview
Mauricio Ventura
Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica


1-What is the country’s tourism development model?
Costa Rica is a benchmark in sustainable tourism thanks to our Model of Tourism Development, which we developed almost three decades ago and that contemplates the implementation of sustainability in an integral way, covering the socio cultural, environmental and economic sphere, seeking the well-being of communities.

Thanks to this model, we have been able to integrate elements such as environmental conservation, interaction with local environment and the development of projects into the creation of an authentic, differentiated and diverse product that spreads throughout the national territory, bringing development and employment to the most remote corners of the country.

2- How and when did Costa Rica begin the process that has led to today´s differentiation through its Sustainability Tourism?
Tourism industry is in constant movement and in Costa Rica we have taken a step forward in global trends.

Over time, the development of tourism has taken place in four clearly defined stages.

Between 1984 and 1990, the main motivation for tourists to travel was to contemplate tourist attractions, which meant little involvement with the environment and a passive role of visitors.

Later on, in the 90’s, we lived the heyday of ecotourism and it was the moment when we challenged ourselves as a country, taking the lead as a destination whose cornerstone is based on sustainability.

We even dared to develop a tool to evaluate tourism companies in accordance with the sustainability of their operations and this is how the Certification for Sustainable Tourism- CST- was born.

With this standard, Costa Rica set a precedent in tourism and confirmed its undisputed leadership in sustainability.

Likewise, we promoted the Tourism Declaration, a voluntary standard implemented by the institution, which seeks to enhance the quality of service offered throughout the value chain.

During the third stage of tourism development, between 2000 and 2012, we promoted a sense of belonging as the main motivator of travel.

In this way, tourists sought to belong to the local environment and mainly leave their mark; that is, to be part of the change, through some action that gave meaning to their trip.

From 2014 to date, the evolution of the tourism model leads us to a fourth stage of development, in which experience plays a dominant role.

The traditional vacation passed to the background, opening the way for feelings, emotions, the enjoyment of people`s culture and identity, the delight of the authentic and the involvement in unique and memorable experiences.

3-What are the current sustainability programs and what initiatives do they promote, especially in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism?
The Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) has contributed for 20 years to consolidating the image of Costa Rica as a pioneering country in sustainable tourism. We had to evolve to a standard that would adapt to current trends, technological advances and the needs of an increasingly demanding industry.

The evolution of the current Certification for Sustainable Tourism to CST 2.0 represents an effort of continuous improvement in order to provide an innovative, competitive, efficient, updated tool in line with new technologies and integrating the Sustainable Development Objectives of the United Nations and the Global Criteria of Sustainable Tourism and for this reason, we have proposed the CST 2.0 for the 2018 Tourism Innovation Awards of the World Tourism Organization.

Through CST 2.0 we provide a new way to evaluate sustainability of tourism companies in an expeditious way, significantly reducing lead times.

In addition, we promote strategic alliances, intersectoral involvement, the commitment of the private business sector and civil society to make sustainability a way of life.

But we also promote the competitiveness, differentiation and quality of businesses and tourist destinations by leading the way in evaluating sustainable practices.

4-Which are currently the leading segments in Costa Rica and which ones need to be developed?
According to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica is number one in nature and number two in adventure among 141 countries around the world and that reputation must undoubtedly be attributed to our Model of Sustainable Tourism Development, as natural resources represent one of the main attractions of our country.

However, for ICT, it was essential to work on the design and marketing of new tourist products, in order to expand our offer and venture into niches with great potential.

Meetings Tourism
• Since 2015 we have started an aggressive strategy to compete in the world for the meetings industry, which includes participation in specialized tourism fairs, strategic alliances with important national and international organizations, the development of a promotional plan to enter this niche, the hiring of world-class expert advisors, among other aspects.
• This year we launched the Ambassadors in Meetings Tourism Program in Costa Rica, with the aim of involving institutions and associations in the attraction of world events to the country.
• We then created the Meetings Tourism Division in ICT, formed by professionals who have been specializing in this important industry.

Importance of Meetings Tourism
• This tourism allow to break with the seasonality faced by the tourism sector, since the high months for the meetings industry are precisely those of low season in our country.
• In addition, visitors demand pre and post tours, attracting a tourist whose average daily expenditure is up to five times higher than the one who visits us for leisure or pleasure reasons; that is to say, it is possible to attract a tourist with a high purchasing power, who comes in low season and who consumes diverse tourist products.
• The objective is to be prepared and compete with our National Congress and Convention Center as a visible leader in the global meetings tourism industry.

Start of construction of the National Congress and Convention Centre
• After waiting for years, in January 2017 we began the construction of the National Congress and Convention Center, a country project whose benefits will permeate the entire territory and will undoubtedly stimulate the tourism industry, providing employment, promoting development, generating productive linkages and substantially improving the country’s image as a consolidated destination in tourism.
• This landmark construction of 15,600 square meters will be inaugurated in the first quarter of 2018.
• It will be located just 8 kilometers away from the Juan Santamaría International Airport, with access from the General Cañas Highway.

Wellness Tourism
• The ICT launched the country strategy Wellness Pura Vida, which seeks the country as a destination of well-being, differentiated, offering unique and transformative experiences, which improve the quality of life of our inhabitants and of those who visit us.
• The strategy aims to show the wide range of activities that can be carried out throughout the territory, which will generate opportunities for entrepreneurs to innovate and diversify their businesses, benefiting communities throughout the country.
• In addition, it is in line with the new tourist identity of Costa Rica, “My Choice, Naturally”, in order to position the country as a destination that generates authentic travel experiences, which improves our quality of life and of those who visit us.

Welfare tourism is a highly profitable industry worldwide
• It’s a $563 billion market.
• It is estimated that these tourists spend an average of 130 percent more than the average global tourist.
• In addition, it is positioned, among other things, as the preventive cure against work-related stress.

Cultural Tourism
• During this administration, it has been a priority to reinforce cultural identity in the different national and international promotion actions, as a differentiating element of the tourist offer.
• The design of the stands presented in international fairs was transformed, showing Costa Rica as a generator of authentic travel experiences, where culture plays a fundamental role. In addition, our cultural heritage was fostered in every promotional action carried out by the ICT, such as providing strong support for the International Festival of the Arts in 2017.
• The ICT also joined forces with community players, chambers of tourism and municipalities to develop the program for the Strengthening of Destinations, which includes traditional cuisine and cocktails, handicrafts with identity, promotion of cultural expressions such as dancing, among others. The aim is to increase competitiveness, to ensure the quality of products and provide added value to tourists` experiences, within the framework of sustainability as a differentiating element.

5-What are the current figures for international arrivals and what are the actions taken to increase these revenues?
Costa Rica is a destination receiving almost 3 million visitors per year, the previous year alone showed a growth of 10% for all ports, compared to 2015.

During the first half of the year, the country registered 5% growth in air travel, for a total of 1,211,064. In addition, 1,634,137 international arrivals were recorded for all ports, an increase of 2.8% compared to the first half of the previous year.

Among the main actions that we must continue to intensify we can mention attracting airlines, sustaining their operations and increasing connections, diversifying our markets of interest without neglecting what has historically been a priority for our country, expanding our tourism products and promoting sustainable tourism investment.

6-Are there specific initiatives to develop a particular market?
Historically, we have depended on the United States as our natural marketplace; however, Costa Rica has exploited its potential and image to strengthen its position in Europe and reduce dependence on our northern neighbors.

Now it is the first time we have a public relations agency for our 4 main emitting markets (France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom), we carried out studies of best prospects in these markets, transformed our presence at international fairs, strengthened cooperative campaigns as well as our strategy for attracting airlines.

Costa Rica has eight European airlines, seven of them have been achieved in the last two years (Iberia from Spain, British Airways and Thomson Airways from the United Kingdom, Condor from Germany, Air France from France, Edelweiss from Switzerland, KLM from the Netherlands and Lufthansa from Germany).

Also, South America is a market of great potential for Costa Rica, for which we have implemented articulated actions. For the first time we conducted studies of best prospects in five Latin American markets (four of them in South America: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru) and we managed to have LATAM flying for the first time to Costa Rica, as of January 2,2018.

In addition to these efforts, Costa Rica is intensifying its efforts to strengthen its position throughout North America.

Recently we launched the new tourist identity of our country- “Costa Rica. My Choice, Naturally”- thanks to a strategic alliance between the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), CNN International and CNN Task, experts in international brands and destinations.

As part of this alliance, a campaign was developed in five markets (England and France, Mexico, the United States and Canada). They were selected out of their extreme importance for Costa Rica as they account for the largest number of international arrivals to the country, for existing air connections and for the need to strengthen positioning in these markets, mainly North America.

7-Tourism is today one of the main engines of the national economy. Which are the most visited destinations in the country and why?
Costa Rica has an authentic, differentiated and diverse product that spreads throughout the national territory, bringing development and employment to the most remote corners of the country; therefore, Costa Rica does not promote specific areas, but the whole country as a multi-destination in itself.

8-The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo maintains a successful and fluid intersectoral alliance with other public and private organizations. What are the main achievements of this joint action in the tourism sector?
Our country has 70 chambers and associations located across the national territory to promote tourism. In addition, public-private alliances and the full involvement of the President of the Republic make tourism a priority activity for the country.

Achievements are very broad and range from participation in defining tourism policy, promoting destination and the development of tourism infrastructure, strengthening safety, promoting training and professionalization of the sector, among others.

9-What are the short, medium and long-term goals for air connectivity and other infrastructure needed to continue growth?
We continue to work on our strategy for attraction of airlines. One of the priorities of this administration has been to strengthen the attraction of investments to the country including airlines, since 70% of international arrivals to Costa Rica are by air.

Negotiations with airlines are very complex processes, since the evaluation to fly to a destination involves a cost-benefit analysis as well as assessing the capacity of the aircraft, the demand for the destination, the profitability of the route, among other things. However, benefits go beyond tourism, since in addition to increasing the number of seats available, and therefore international arrivals, it promotes foreign trade, attracting investment and favoring exports, thanks to aircrafts` cargo capacity.

An important action in the Strategy is participation in specialized fairs, such as World Routes, which took place in September. We seek to make the most of these world showcase spaces to intensify our work in attracting airlines by promoting contacts with airlines from our priority markets, whose potential to travel to the country is very high, making presentations on the destination and strengthening business relationships with airlines that currently fly to the country, as well as starting negotiations with airlines from new markets.

10-What does it mean for Costa Rica to host the first Costa Rica Sustainable Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference organized by SAHIC and what are the expectations?
For the first time, we will open the doors to internationally recognized exhibitors, panelists, over a hundred international participants including investors, representatives of investment funds, executives of the main hotel and real estate groups, operators, financial advisors, developers and others, with the clear objective of positioning ourselves as an ideal destination for tourism investment.

Costa Rica Sustainable Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference is a high level event that constitutes a benchmark for our country.

We have everything to be considered as a proper destination for tourist investment. Quality of life, social, economic and political stability, our democratic roots, our vision of peace, the country’s image and positioning as a tourist destination, among many other strengths, foster a suitable environment for business development and what better than promoting them to the industry that energizes the economy and social development of communities.

Therefore, it is essential to facilitate an enabling environment that stimulates tourism investment, because the benefits reach the entire territory and its inhabitants.

We count on the support of the best in its field, SAHIC, a widely recognized company, leader in the organization of conferences in hotels and tourism investments in Latin America, with which we will hold this important event on November 13 and 14 in our country.

But there is also room for growth, further areas to develop, destinations to consolidate and places to discover.

If we want to continue with the growth of the Costa Rican tourism industry and develop or further enhance the generation of employment, welfare and social progress, fundamental characteristics of the Tourism Development Model of our country, it is essential to have more and better investment in the different tourism activities, by placing Costa Rica on the map of world investment.

Profile:

Mauricio Ventura Aragón graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., with a Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance. Hotelier by profession and involved in the tourism industry from a very young age, coming from a family of pioneers in Costa Rica’s hotel development as early as 1911.

With more than 35 years of professional experience in tourism, he also has an important trajectory as a financial analyst with investments, being directly involved with the stock market and banking.

As a businessman of the tourism industry, he managed and presided over the Hotel Radisson Europa and later the Tourism Division for BACCredomatic Tourism Group, also working as an independent consultant for different companies, as well as governmental and trade associations and agencies. He has participated in multiple seminars
and conferences at a national and international level.

Because of his vision and active participation in the tourism industry in Central America, he has served as director and president of various boards for trade associations and governmental agencies such as the Costa Rican Association of Travel Agencies (ACAV, for its acronym in Spanish), Costa Rican Chambers Union and Private Enterprise Associations (UCCAEP, for its acronym in Spanish), the National Chamber for Tourism of Costa Rica (CANATUR), the Federation of Central American Tourism Chamber (FEDECATUR), in addition to being the Latin American representative for the RADIUS Governing Board, one of the three largest travel agencies networks worldwide, with sales reaching over $20 million. He also served as Vice-President of the National Parks Foundation of Costa Rica (FPN) and for many years was part of the Board of Directors of the National Biodiversity Institute – INBio, and of the Governing Director for the Polo Turístico Golfo de Papagayo (PTGP). In 2007, he was appointed by the Mayor of San Jose, Johnny Araya, to become part of the new Board of Tourism of San Jose.
His professional performance has been recognized with the ¨TOURISM WITHOUT BOARDERS 1999¨ award, the highest tourism industry distinction in Central America.

For more information visit: visitecostarica.com