Tourism in Costa Rica: History and Development

History of Tourism:

In the 1960’s Costa Rica warily became aware that tourism could be an important source of income. The slogan of that time "The Garden of the Americas" already demonstrated a willingness to develop ecological tourism. Back then, only San José had a hotel deserving this name, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, located on the Plaza de la Cultura. There were few paved roads… but some things have changed since.

The country was connected with the rest of the world by the national airline LACSA, departing from an airport located in the place of the current La Sabana park, at the beginning of Paseo Colon. The international airport, Juan Santamaria, named after the national hero, is now in Alajuela 18 kilometres from the capital. Some flights operate from small Pavas airport, located 4 kilometres from downtown.

The economic sector of tourism began to develop in the 1980’s and is now the country’s main revenue source. In 1955 a law passed that declared areas within a radius of 2 kilometres of volcanic craters to be national parks. In the same year the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) was founded. In 1977 the National Park Services (SPN) was created and in 1998 the organisation of all natural reservations was reorganised under the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC – Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación). Slowly, Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity was being discovered as an important asset and plans for its protection were compiled. In the 1990’s everything accelerated and the government promoted tourism development on a large scale. Meanwhile, while one of the ICT’s slogans was "COSTA RICA 100% NATURE", slash-and-burn agriculture created a catastrophic deforestation. By 2007 there were 1.9 million visitors in Costa Rica, thereby contributing with 8% of the GNP and around 13% of the country’s employment. Tourism has become the primary source of income (15%) before banana and coffee exportation.

The situation for disabled travellers is increasing slowly but gradually. Most structures are still not accessible for wheelchairs, but new buildings have to be made barrier-free. Find more information about accessible tourism in Costa Rica here.

 

Tourism and Ecology

The contradictions are evident. On one hand, the country is promoting this image to attract ever more visitors with the slogan "Sin ingredientes artificiales" – "without artificial ingredients". On the other hand it is evident that mass tourism is incompatible with the preservation of nature… So what can be done? We advise to avoid large hotels that had to be built with big bulldozers, destroying the fragile nature. Instead, chose small eco tourist establishments that are (mostly) more in touch with their environment.

Visit these pages:
www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr (the list is not very comprehensible, nor reliable. Also, some hotels are not primarily “ecolodges”)
www.rainforestalliance.com

 

Well then, Enjoy Your Vacation in COSTA RICA – where NATURE IS CULTURE

 

Tourist Arrivals in Costa Rica since 2003

In 2012 more than 2 million people have visited Costa Rica, half of whom are North Americans.
The Swedish figure for 8’000 entries. To compare: more than 16’000 Swiss visit the country every year – in proportion to their population they are twice more likely to visit Costa Rica than the Swedish... But isn’t Costa Rica called the "Switzerland of the Central America"?

 

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2008

2009

2012

Total visits

1 238 692

1 437 098

1 679 000

1 725 261

2 089 000

1 922 579

2 343 213

Costa Rica’s main visiting countries

Austria

3 957

4 660

4 244

5 107

6 124

5 504

6 150

Belgium

5 504

5 650

4 844

5 977

8 368

9 509

10 235

Canada

54 656

74 212

86 906

88 304

109 854

102 471

151 568

France

23 606

23 467

24 365

24 392

34 622

30 737

38 139

Germany

29 151

34 154

38 523

37 847

44 705

40 918

50 938

Holland

24 665

21 905

24 173

24 303

30 615

25 006

25 758

Sweden

3 726

4 085

5 947

-

8 726

6 939

7 831

Switzerland

10 893

11 604

12 730

13 144

12 985

12 343

16 869

Spain

34 442

42 381

49 218

50 225

54 029

46 457

47 505

UK

23 019

24 158

26 917

27 890

40 250

28 882

31 930

USA

510 751

633 640

758 134

731 236

807 162

770 129

921 097

 

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