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Costa Rica 2019 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Costa Rica is ramping up its MICE sector with the required facilities, talent, certifications, and marketing campaigns.

Álvaro Rojas
BIOGRAPHY
Álvaro Rojas, General Manager of CCCR, is an energetic and innovative leader and manager focused on hotel and convention center management with a strong background in marketing and sales, event productions, and food and beverage operations. He has over 14 years of experience in the industry. His academic background began as a professional in hotel management and continued with a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in management development.

How do you see the current state of the sector, and what should be the strategy to gain ground in the MICE sector?

MICE tourism requires the destination to have excellent connectivity, hotel infrastructure, and road network. The participation of strong sectors and key local players is equally important, as is a solid convention bureau that can assist international organizers in local matters. MICE tourism requires collaborative competition. The international congresses are requested through candidatures by the national association that represents the congress, so we need to have internal preparation and teamwork to show the benefits of the destination and prepare those who will represent us. MICE tourism is not new to Costa Rica, as over the years we have held presidential summits and Central American and Latin American events. However, to date, we had never brought it to its present dimension.

What are the strengths of Costa Rica as a MICE destination?

Costa Rica's geographic location holds the key, enabling a Latin American group to attract professionals from South, Central, and North America. There are important sectors that we can attract, similar to how the New York Convention Bureau attracts the fashion sector. With that in mind, we have analyzed strong sectors for MICE tourism in Costa Rica: medical, administration, and technological congresses.

What was the process of establishing the National Congress Center like?

While the number of events is multiplying, their sizes are falling as congresses become more specialized. Therefore, the size of the Costa Rica Convention Center is ideal for the country. At present, there is 5,700sqm for meeting areas, and 15,000sqm of area is under construction; however, beyond that, we are working on other strategies to make it a world-class convention center. To that end, we plan to acquire ISO 9001: 2015 certification, assuring foreign congresses that we will provide top level services. Notably, our operations manager is a certified meeting professional (CMP), which is an
international certification for event planners.

How do you support the organizations responsible for making the international bids to win the events that would later be hosted at the convention center?

Recently, we had an open house with the participation of more than 300 people, and 60% of those people represented professional associations. We brought them to see how events are held in the convention center before giving them training to showcase how we operate the center, what can be done, the operating regulations, and so on. The idea is to strengthen the center by showing people how the center works; only then we can defend it before a candidacy.

What benefits do you gain from being a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)?

ICCA provides a great deal of training, updates, and data regarding the MICE segment across the world. The other side of the coin is to be able to do research with all the data that ICCA gives us, allowing us to analyze congresses confirmed for Costa Rica and those that could potentially be held in Costa Rica, for example.

Which segments do you target in the coming years?

The local industry is strengthened when a convention center opens, allowing suppliers to do other events and multiply the effect. On an international level, medical sciences have a big role and should be developed locally; therefore, we invite boards of directors to have meetings in the convention center at no charge.

How have you positioned yourselves in the local market so that key stakeholders know about the convention center?

We exclusively specialize in events. The events that have taken place here have a multiplier effect on attendance. For example, assembly times at the convention center can be halved because we have the necessary logistics and infrastructure in place.