When it comes to Costa Rica, enjoying the Pacific and Caribbean beaches, exploring the rainforests, and enjoying nature will always be in, but a new trend is quickly sprouting up in this slice of Central American paradise.
According to Freddy Lizano, a spokesperson for Visit Costa Rica, farm-to-table experiences are popping up all over the country. It's just one of the few trends that the tourist board is supporting, in order to keep Costa Rica at the forefront of eco-tourism, as the country's neighbours to the north and south continue to peddle a similar product.
Last night, the Costa Rica Tourism Board and Groupo ProImagen came to Toronto to discuss how they are working together to revamp the country's current tourism products.
The Costa Rican combo
Sitting smack in the middle of Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica has long been a popular choice for the traveller that wants to do it all—straddling both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica has a diverse mix of micro-climates, featuring four kinds of forests, three of which are in the Guanacaste province. The dry forest, rainforest, páramo forests, and the cloud forests, one of the most popular one being the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
"People will get bored, doing the same thing every day on a beach," Lizano explained. "Costa Rica is a small country, but going short distances allows you to see different things--in roughly two hours, they [travellers] can move from the beaches to the mountains, or from the beach to the volcano, or the national parks."
From soaking in the natural hot springs that run off of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, to lazing on the beaches of Jacó or Tamarindo, one of the most popular ways of seeing the country is by selecting a local car rental company, and touring the country freestyle—trust me, doing a roadtrip in Costa Rica is easy!
The fact that there's so much to do is an angle the Costa Rica Tourism Board is chasing, inviting travellers to see various parts of the country in a more immersive way, and despite major resorts opening earlier this year, Lizano is adamant that their appearance won't change the pre-existing fabric of the country.
"The places where these new hotels were developed were specifically designed to build those hotels," Lizano explained. "In the majority of the country, you'll still find only small, or medium hotel builds, and the big hotels are only established in the north part of Guanacaste."
Rural tourism: strengthening the economy
"The real Costa Rican way of living is something that we're promoting in Costa Rica," Lizano told PAX. "Agriculture tourism is a way for people to take part in activities at a house or a farm; they can take a real look at what people do. It's a way for the local people to earn some money, and tourists can learn more about the different areas in Costa Rica."
While the destination may be known for its ecotourism, right now, the Costa Rica Tourism Board is channelling its efforts into sustainability, and hopes to be carbon neutral by 2021.
The tourism board currently offers a CSTR certificate to hotel partners and car rental companies who wish to be part of the sustainable tourism movement.
Air Canada, WestJet, and Sunwing all currently offer direct flights into Liberia and San Jose, roughly taking just over five hours. Additional airlines offer one-stop flights into the country, usually making a connection in the U.S.
"The Ministry is working hard with additional airlines, and soon we hope to have more Canadian airlines coming into Costa Rica," Lizano explained. "Canada is our second largest market, the first one being the U.S., and the third being Mexico. We have so much to do here in Canada, and we would love to have both English and French Canada coming here. Canadian people are fantastic, and its people really enjoy the culture of Costa Rica, and learning more about so many things that are on offer. I think we know how to make a really good vacation for Canadians, and we hope to see more of you soon."
ProImagen, promoting Costa Rica since 1994, is a non-profit organization that has approximately 100 members, including hotels, tour operators, and car rental services, which represent Costa Rica in the Canadian market.
"We are working together with the Costa Rica Tourism Board to give people the opportunity to market the destination," said Ivonne Duarte, executive director, ProImagen.
"The tourism board is not big enough to do everything, and we need partnerships with those in the industry," Lizano added. "These people know how to handle tourism, and we ask them to professionally promote various areas of Costa Rica. It's better to work with people who know the areas, so that they can better explain how to sell Costa Rica. These people can conduct B2B networking and really make decisions, which is why our partnership with ProImagen is so important."