Costa Rica needs to upgrade its ecotourism industry if it wants to compete successfully with other destinations that are vying for a larger slice of the market, business leaders said at the country`s first nationwide ecotourism conference. Representatives of more than 80 Costa Rican companies with links to ecotourism met this week at the National Ecotourism Forum to discuss the industry`s needs and development opportunities.
“Costa Rica is green, and that is how we should promote ourselves in order to remain competitive. It is essential that the country adopt measures that allow for better ecotourism, to the benefit of all,” William Rodriguez, president of the National Chamber of Tourism, said.
Among the recommendations made at the symposium was that travel professionals lay greater stress on the country`s cultural offerings, so that visitors are able to do more than commune with nature. Another suggestion was that the government award “certificates of sustainable ecotourism” to environmentally-friendly activities, again as a means of competing with such nations as Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic, which are trying to capitalize on the demand for ecotourism. Tamara Budowsky, of the organizing committee, underscored the fact that ecotourism “put Costa Rica on the map.” To maximize Costa Rica`s still- underexploited tourism potential, the industry needs to engage in market research, acquire “green technology” and develop its human resources, Budowsky said. Symposium participants called on the government to prevent and eliminate pollution, the greatest threat to the industry, and to implement regulation that facilitates its growth. According to Rodriguez, the industry`s target customer is a well-educated, affluent individual who loves nature and wants to become acquainted with different people and cultures.
Tourism is Costa Rica`s number-one source of income. In the first half of 2002, 594,000 people visited the country and brought in $684 million in foreign currency. Last year, the country was host to 1.2 million visitors from abroad, who made the country $1.2 billion richer.