THREE LEGS TO LEAN ON

Costa Rica 2018 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mauricio Ventura, Minister of Tourism, on how to show the world a more complete Costa Rica, increasing connectivity, and the meaning of true sustainability.

Mauricio Ventura
BIOGRAPHY
Mauricio Ventura has an MBA with an emphasis on finance from American University. A hotelier by profession and involved in the tourism industry from a very young age, he hails from a long line of hotel pioneers in Costa Rica that dates back to 1911. As a businessman in the tourism industry, he managed and presided over the Hotel Radisson Europa and later the Tourism Division for BAC-Credomatic Tourism Group. With more than 35 years of professional experience in tourism, he previously worked as a financial analyst specialized in investments, the stock market, and banking.

What have been your main achievements as Minister of Tourism, and what policies do you want to have in place for your successor?

When I started, we defined a tourism strategy: three legs of the stool. The first leg was improving air connectivity, as tourists will not come if there are not enough flights. The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) has had a strategy in place for a few years and we want to focus on that more aggressively. At the same time, we wanted to diversify the market. About 40% of all of our business comes from the US, an extremely large market just two hours away, and we want to improve our relationship with it in terms of getting more visitors. On top of this, we want to diversify in terms of expanding to new markets. We have been increasing the number of flights over the past two years and now have direct flights from Spain, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, and Zurich. A case in point is our Liberia airport in Guanacaste, which grew 40% in terms of passenger arrivals in 2016. Demand grew 32%, which is also a huge increase. The second leg of our strategy after securing flights is to attract people. We did studies on the best prospects in 10 markets, not just North America, and now have nine more with great prospects: the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. We also have five public relations agencies in the US and Europe. We also continued with a better presence in trade fairs in different parts of the world. We are showing the world a more complete Costa Rica; it is not only nature and adventure anymore, but also culture, gastronomy, and tradition. We also introduced the people of Costa Rica, which happens to be the number-one attraction according to our surveys. With that, we presented a new touristic identity for Costa Rica, “Costa Rica, My Choice, Naturally" that has been successful thus far. For the third leg, we are focused on investment to ensure the sector continues to grow. We also wanted to increase the quality that international markets bring to Costa Rica. For the first time, we did a conference on investment in sustainable tourism, the only one of its kind. We are clearly sending a message to the more than 100 different companies and investors who came to the country. We had developers, lawyers, banks, designers, architects—all the people who had to do with development in tourism were here, and all from different areas. There were also about 100 Costa Ricans to do the networking that is expected at these types of conferences.

What programs do you have in place to help local people benefit from this activity?

In 2016, we conducted the world's first study to measure social progress in tourism with the Social Progress Index (SPI) methodology. In our particular model, 94% of people in the communities we studied reported that tourism had benefitted them, so people are supportive of the industry. They are not just sitting and watching the progress go by; they are part of it and are involved.

How do you reconcile your growth goals with the environmental impact inherent to development?

When we say we are sustainable, it is not just in terms of the environment. For Costa Rica and the tourism industry, sustainability includes three areas: the environment, society and culture, and the economy. To make it sustainable in all three ways, the local community has to be involved, and we also have to take care of the environment. Costa Rica was dedicated to protecting the environment 20 years ago, long before it became trendy. This is why Costa Rica is considered the leader in sustainable tourism. This is not something we merely call ourselves; it is how we are internationally recognized. We have stayed true to our vision for two decades.