Costa Rica Shows Gradual Rebound in Visitation at the End of 2020

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano // Photo by lightphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

International arrivals to Costa Rica in 2020 by all routes reached the accumulated figure of 1,011,912, which represents almost one-third of the record for 2019 when they exceeded 3 million.

With the return of 20 airlines from Costa Rica’s main tourism markets and the announcement of new routes at the end of the period, December registered the entry of 71,000 tourists by air, almost doubling the visitation registered in November, during which 36,044 were reported, according to data from the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners analyzed by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.

Despite what Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura Sancho called an unprecedented year, he added that reaching the number of visitors it did was an achievement of its own. Costa Rica had its air and maritime border open for only seven months of the year—with only four-and-a-half months open to all countries of the world.

“Each tourist who visits Costa Rica contributes to recovering the tourism sector, a process that, as we have repeatedly pointed out, will be gradual,” said Segura in a press statement. “Tourist visitation also activates a series of productive chains of the culture, agriculture, fishing, and commerce sectors, among others.” He also noted that there was a greater recovery of tourism from the United States than from Europe, where travel has diminished much more, the restrictions imposed in their countries and the distance that separates Costa Rica from Europe, among other reasons.

According to the data for December, a visitation by air of 52,027 tourists from North America was reported, specifically from the United States (45,641) and Canada (4,450), which historically have been the main tourism markets. Both countries accumulated in the 2020 period a total of 547,466 tourists who entered via Juan Santamaría International Airport in the capitol, San José, and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, which serves as a hub for the western part of the country.

Some additional good news: According to data from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy, the income of citizens and residents of the United States (without differentiation by state), means the possibility of generating $1.5 billion in foreign currency, recover 80 thousand jobs and 2.5 points of GDP by 2021.

"World tourism is still under the effects of the pandemic, which make it difficult to make future projections or estimates based on the information available; however, we are constantly working on the generation of new models to establish scenarios that allow us to analyze different possibilities for the growth of tourism in the future," added Rodolfo Lizano, director of ICT planning and development. “With the arrival of the vaccine, the increase in efforts to contain the virus, and the opening and reactivation of tourist activity, we hope that tourism will show a rebound for the second half of 2021.”

2021 Challenges

All that said, the tourism minister highlighted the challenges that the Costa Rican tourism sector will face in 2021: Segura pointed to the challenge of regaining the confidence of international tourists who still do not feel confident in traveling by plane or leaving their homes. This is conditioned by elements beyond control, such as new waves of SARS-CoV-2 in the markets of origin, virus mutations, restrictions in source markets and others.

In addition, he added the challenge of maintaining Costa Rica's brand presence in the main markets (U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands) with a budget very reduced for 2021, highlighting the country’s strengths, such as it being a destination that can be visited at any time of the year, with multiple outdoor activities, which are sustainable and safe.

A third challenge is to bring economic relief to tourism companies so that as many as possible can survive the pandemic. In this case, in a coordinated manner with the Ministry of the Presidency, a series of bills proposed by deputies from different political parties and by the government were summoned to extraordinary sessions. Its approval will be key to the reactivation of the economy as a whole and the tourism sector in particular, according to the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.

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