Costa Rica will receive international tourism again on August 1
This was stated by Alberto López, General Manager of the ICT in an exclusive interview
The Covid-19 pandemic still hits hard in many countries around the world, especially in the Americas, and the tourism market has been one of its first victims. Despite this, there is no longer any doubt that the countries that have best managed the health situation and have a strong health system will have a broad advantage in the preference of travelers. Such is the case of Costa Rica. To find out the details on current and future in the medium and long term, we interviewed Alberto López, General Manager of the ICT. We share their responses below:
Until the health crisis broke out due to Covid-19, Costa Rica had been setting milestones in the Latin American tourism industry, on the point of reactivating the activity. How do you assess the effects of this pandemic in the sector?
Before the pandemic we expected one of the best seasons for tourism in Costa Rica, we know that it will take time, a long time, to return to the figure of 3.1 million tourists who visited us in 2019. We had to face the harshest crisis in the story with a three-month zero season.
It is forecast that the recovery could take two years, however, we are sure that working together, with the support of the Government and of the entire country, we will begin to recover the industry that generated 8.2% of the GDP in Costa Rica. year 2016 and $ 4 billion the previous year.
Some 220 thousand people were directly employed in activities associated with tourism and for all of them the situation is catastrophic, in addition, there are more than 400 thousand people who worked in indirect positions.
Since May 16, the reopening of the hotels began at 50% of their occupancy and they remain that way. Commercial flights to the country are scheduled to restart on August 1, which would join the repatriation flights, the only ones authorized for the last 3 and a half months, measures that seek to generate reactivation, always taking care of people's health.
We cannot deny that the blow has been strong for our industry.
Looking ahead to the reopening, do you think that Costa Rica has a substantial advantage for managing the pandemic and its health system of excellence worldwide?
Indeed, the management of the pandemic, with a figure of 17 regrettable deaths and 4,023 cases as of July 2, after almost four months of the crisis, speaks highly of the Costa Rican health system and in a responsible way in which the majority of the population has faced the crisis, despite the fact that the economic blow has been strong.
In addition to this, from the ICT we work together with the private sector in the elaboration of 16 protocols for lodging, tourist transport, restaurants, adventure tourism, guided tourism sector, to name a few examples and we are also working on the material for the protocol reopening of beaches and airports.
Despite the fact that the design of the protocols for airports is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the ICT, through the Office of the Rector Minister of Tourism, María Amalia Revelo, of the executive working table of ICT airlines ( constituted by the Road Map of the Tourism Sector) and by the general management of the ICT, it has summoned both Civil Aviation and the managers of both airports, the Ministry of Health, the National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the General Directorate of Migration and Immigration and to the private sector, in the figure of the Association of Airlines, to work on the reopening of airports and to attend to the various issues requested by the relevant authorities.
The foregoing includes the traceability of the contacts that tourists will have, the concern about the cost of the eventual hospitalization of international visitors who may contract the COVID-19 disease or who, during their stay in the country, must comply with a quarantine in case of contracting said virus.
In this regard, we have offered possible solutions such as a protocol developed by the ICT for such purposes, the use of applications such as the Digital Mask - a private initiative - and greater use of the epidemiological digital form that is already used on repatriation flights.
There is support from the Airline Association (ALA) to coordinate with the airlines and warn travelers of the obligation to complete this form and download the digital mask application. In addition, ICT offers to promote with the support of its public relations agencies, so that these tools are widely known.
What initiatives were launched to support tourist companies during the quarantine?
From the Economic Council of the Government of the Republic, of which the Costa Rican Tourism Institute is part, we are promoting all possible measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID- 19, differentiating measures that respond to a crisis that is unprecedented and that we could not imagine even in the worst case scenario.
These measures are monetary policy, fiscal, labor and social measures. Many of them have required the support of the Legislative Branch, others from autonomous institutions such as the Caja and the Central Bank. All have known how to unite to answer for the country.
The dismissed workers require financial support because at this time there is no other door to knock. Entrepreneurs urge to renegotiate the conditions of their loans without these adjustments having a negative impact on their qualification as debtors, and CONASSIF has already made this possible. Market interest rates have also fallen as a response from the Central Bank to this crisis.
Thanks to the Tourism Sector Roadmap, it has already been possible to extend the Transitory Credential for adventure tourism guides to one year and also the development of an employment exchange, in alliance with the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (ACOPROT) to Starting in July, as well as alliances with universities, the tourism sector and organizations to train people in various subjects.
Currently, one of the topics in which work continues strongly, is to obtain financial support for entrepreneurs through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Non-Reimbursable Funds Project.
The fundamental purpose of this project is to provide a number of funds to tourist Mypimes and other ICT-accredited service providers to prevent the closure of the operation and keep them active in the face of the gradual recovery process. The transfer of these funds, which should not be reimbursed by the beneficiary, is combined with an accompaniment program in the form of training and assistance to help companies to restart their activities.
As for the guarantee fund of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), it continues in a stage of analysis and design from a financial perspective by the technical teams of CABEI and ICT.
For the tourism industry section, work teams were set up to review together with the sector of company expenditures, such as the payment of the Social Security Fund, Ministry of Finance, Municipalities, electricity payment and water, among other services.
The idea is that, with the material collected, a report be prepared for its eventual attention by the Government.
Even, to have several initiatives in the tax area, the ICT will organize on July 8 the "Tax Workshop" through the ICT Capacita platform, with the technical management of a specialized advisory company.
The ICT Capacita Platform was created as a tool for the sector to improve its skills in the face of the new normality that we face. 26 courses are scheduled between June 29 and August 7 and this platform has been a way to expose the protocols to the sector.
What kind of promotional activities and benefits do you plan to recover the number of tourists you had planned for this season?
For almost two months we have been working based on the Tourism Sector Roadmap, a document prepared between the private and public sectors, consisting of eight objectives that respond to the same number of priorities. The eight priority axes of the plan respond to three main areas of work: tourists, the business network and the workforce that are intertwined as follows:
- Tourists: airlines, marketing and promotion (national and international) and maritime tourism.
- Business Fabric: product, industry companies, protocols and Gulf of Papagayo Tourist Center.
- Labor Force: training and employment and foreign and national investment.
One of the points it includes is the promotion of the country, we know that the first tourist will be, possibly, the intern and that is why we have developed an unprecedented national advertising campaign and with actions aimed at reducing prices for the final consumer. In this way, the recovery of the tourism sector will begin, which will appeal to the Costa Rican population residing in the country to be a participant in the mission of restarting the main engine of our economy: tourism.
To stimulate national tourism and begin to bring the sector out of the paralysis into which the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged it, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute has established strategic alliances with cooperatives, solidarity associations, and the financial sector to promote offers and payment facilities.
In addition, it will integrate the regional tourist chambers in the process of improvement and adaptation of the product offer at the local level, which in turn will strengthen them.
Unlike previous national tourism campaigns, in which the private sector offered promotional packages, this time the ICT will directly contribute with actions such as raffles, activations and prizes aimed at reducing prices so that, together with the sector's offers for National tourists, vacationing is much more attractive for Costa Ricans.
What is your vision regarding the main source markets most important to you?
We know that Europe and North America have been hit by the pandemic like the rest of the world, however, it is in our hands to generate confidence in the international tourist to visit us and the best way to do this is to assure them that they will visit a country that is not only spectacular for its natural beauties, but also for the gift of people from Costa Rica, and now for the good management that has been done of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The implementation of the protocols in each tourist activity, which were ready before their reopening, speaks of the responsibility and seriousness with which Costa Rica has faced the pandemic.
We have maintained our presence in these markets thanks to the support of our public relations agencies in North America and Europe because we cannot be left behind, we must keep ourselves in the mind of the powerful tourist as a destination to visit when this happens.
How are you working with airlines to not only revive flights, but also gain new routes and enhance connectivity?
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute is renegotiating cooperative campaigns planned for 2020 with airlines.
The President of the Republic, Carlos Alvarado, and the Minister of Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, in coordination with the Minister of Tourism, María Amalia Revelo, signed Executive Decree No. 42352-MINAE that establishes a reduction in the price of sale of jet fuel paid by airlines by approximately 5%, a percentage that had never been offered to them and, in addition, they do not pay the single fuel tax.
The ICT has maintained a constant dialogue with the lines and we have received information from airlines that had confirmed their desire to start operations towards Costa Rica in July, including American Airlines, Delta, United, Iberia, Lufthansa, Edelweiss, JetBlue and Spirit.
However, the health emergency moved the date of the restart of commercial flights to the country for August 1, so we are working so that this interest is maintained and they return to the country soon.
Work has also been carried out to reduce the cost of crew accommodation in hotels in the country, as well as preparing a report with the analysis of the benefits currently available to local airlines and a proposal for incentives.