Costa Rica's New Tourism Minister Outlines Ambitious Agenda

On the morning just hours before the official inauguration of Costa Rica's EXPOTUR 2006, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, Costa Rica's new Minister of Tourism, outlined his agenda for the country. Costa Rica transitioned to a new government on May 8, and Benavides, a former congressman, was sworn in a day later. Benavides pledged to make a concerted effort to attract more airlines offering scheduled flights to Costa Rica. "There can never be too much lift," he said. "But our first concern is to focus on improving the infrastructure at our airport (JuanSantamariaInternationalAirport, in San Jose)."Benavides will also devote additional dollars to promote the country in the U.S. Part of this plan includes shifting the three percent hotel tax visitors pay to a $15 tax included in the airline ticket. The taxes will be approximately the same amount as that previously collected on the hotel bill, but it will make the tax easier to collect, said Benavides. "ICT (the Costa Rica Tourist Board) will advocate investment in security, infrastructure, as well as making efforts to cut the amount of red tape for investment and development of the country," said Benavides. "We will also demand that the country's major cruise companies, JAPDEVA on the Caribbean coast, and INCOP on the Pacific side, coordinate their efforts." Benavides also noted that the country will continue its initiatives to promote sustainable and responsible tourism, as well as rural tourism. "These are the target markets we are trying to reach," he said. "We are reaching out to the tourist who is more educated, aware of global problems, and who is interested in cultural tourism." He also noted that over the next four years, Costa Rica will see 20,000 new jobs as a result of tourism growth. Benavides was forthright about the importance of the country's relationship with travel agents. "They were the ones who made the biggest effort," he said. "They were pioneers in their enthusiasm for Costa Rica-without them we couldn't have been successful." Additionally, Luis Fernando Yglesias, CEO, Costa Rican Land Development commented on the country's marina development, saying, "By 2008, we should have five new marinas; all of them will include hotel development." The marinas will be located in Golfito, two in the Central Pacific, and two in northern Guanacaste. The marinas will have from 200 to 300 slips.