DOING GOOD BY DOING WELL

Costa Rica 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mauricio Ventura A., Minister of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), on leveraging the booming tourism industry, tackling the seasonality challenge, and contributing to social progress

Mauricio Ventura A.
BIOGRAPHY
With more than 35 years of professional experience in tourism, Mauricio Ventura A. also has a strong background as a financial analyst in investments, the stock market, and banking. As a businessman, he
managed the Hotel Radisson Europa and later the Tourism Division for BAC-Credomatic Tourism Group. He also worked as an independent consultant for different companies, as well as at governmental and trade associations and agencies. He has participated in multiple seminars and conferences at the national and international level. He graduated from American University in Washington, DC, with a master’s in business administration with an emphasis in finance. An hotelier by profession, he has been involved in the tourism industry since a young age.

The tourism sector in Costa Rica grew three times faster than the national economy in 2015. What are the main areas the ministry has worked on to maximize this sector's potential?

It is fair to say that tourism is Costa Rica's main economic sector and the figures prove this. For example, 27% of the country's workforce is employed in the sector; 29.6% of the country's exports are in tourism and, according to the latest data from the Central Bank, while services represent around 40% of GDP, tourism accounts for 20% of that. We also expect it to grow three or four times faster than the national economy. Moreover, it is extremely diverse, and SMEs represent the great majority of its enterprises. That it is dispersed throughout the country has enabled us to boost investment in all of Costa Rica without favoring one or two areas, bringing investment to regions that otherwise wouldn't have it. At the moment, the average stay is 13 days, a length of time that proves what an array of offerings we have to get people to stay that long.

What kind of projects do you have in mind to further realize the potential of the tourism industry in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is well known in two areas: nature and adventure. According to the World Economic Forum's (WEF's) tourism competitiveness study from 2015, Costa Rica is number one in terms of nature among 140 countries and number two in adventure, just behind New Zealand. This proves that we can compete with the world. Our objective is to further consolidate the country's position in these two areas. At the same time, we are also trying to add to this strategy. For example, the Conventions Centre is a nationwide effort to position the country as a leading destination for MICE tourism. We have started to promote Costa Rica in this field at the international level through fairs and tourism events. To be sure, we are trying to boost our potential in this area across the entire country rather than focusing on one or two cities.

Which areas still need improvement and what is the Ministry doing to tackle the seasonality challenge?

Visitors leave the country overall very satisfied, but we know we can still get better in some areas. Infrastructure is one of these—even historically so—and we need to work closely with other ministries in order to tackle this. Our efforts to move toward MICE tourism are a good example of what we are doing to minimize the impact of seasonality in the industry. Previously, the ICT focused many of its campaigns on the high season—60% of its budget on the high season and 40% on the low. Today, we invest 70% of our budget on promoting the low season and 30% on the high. In this context, we need to work together with the private sector to focus our strategies on a common goal.

What are the Ministry's objectives for 2017?

The Convention Centre needs to be ready and fully operating. We will also continue attracting new airlines and working closely with the different PR agencies in Europe. These combined efforts should allow us to break the seasonality factor. We are also looking at redefining our strategy for attracting tourism investment in order to get more funds for infrastructure areas like hotels. We also expect to release the results of a pioneer study at the international level to measure the contribution of tourism to a country's development of a country, something that's never before been done. We are calling it the Social Progress Index in tourism.