Monday, May 14, 2012

If it's Monday, it must be Costa Rica

If you want to see a cloud forest, a rain forest, a volcano, waterfalls, and the beach all in one location, go to Codta Rica! Today we spent our day learning about Costa Rica's tourism industry and what is done internationally to promote their products and services. Our first speaker was Ms. Vanessa Gibson, Director of After-Care from CINDE, a private non-profit nonpolictical organization that leads direct foreign investment for Costa Rica. It's an interesting model for what can happen when the government gets out of the way. Costa Rica recognizes that private industry creates jobs and advances their economy. So they incentivize investment by offering things such as no corporate income tax for 8 years. And if the company continues to reinvest in the country, this incentive is extended. There are companies which have operated here for over 20 years with no income tax! Examples of reinvestment include extension of product lines or increased employment. Amazing! Our second speaker was Mr. Robert Morales, a recognized authority on Costa Rica tourism. Costa Rica had close to 1.5 million tourists in 2011, and 56% of arrivals are from the United States. The problem facing the country now is over-development. Costa Rica marketed itself as a wild, adventuresome place for vacations, but as the number of tourists increases so does the private development. This increased development is now threatening the very environment the country's tourism industry is based upon. The challenge is one of standardization versus uniqueness. How to offer what tourists demand without sacrificing who you are as a destination? The future of Costa Rican tourism will be determined by this delicate balance.Next, we listened to a representative from Procomer, an nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting investments and business relationships in Costa Rica. For instance, a pineapple farmer decides he wants to begin exporting his fruit to the United States. He contacts Procomer who then works on his behalf to make contacts with grocery chains in the States. I have to say that the most interesting part of this presentation for me was learning about the concept of "medical tourism.". This is where individuals, primarily from the United States, come to Costa Rica for medical procedures which are usually not covered by our traditional insurance. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the most popular procedures are dental and cosmetic. I am simply intrigued that this is considered a Costa Rican export. Our final presenter was Mr. Alberto Mora who provided information on the state of the Central American region. It was startling to see the diversity in these countries. Costa Rica is definitely the gem of Central America with limited crime, a high quality of life, and increasing economic prosperity.It has been said that globalization will replace the frontier. More than 30 years ago, Stanley Plog introduced a psychographic concept, based on a large nationwide U.S. study that described the travel patterns of different personality types. The polar dimensions of ventures and dependables has been used to explain why destination areas rise and fall in popularity. Ventures tend to seek new and exiting destinations that allow for hands-on interactive experiences whereas dependables tend towards more familiar travel spots frequently choosing all-inclusive options to reduce risk. Costa Rican tourism has risen in popularity due to their ability to attract the ventures, but with more development they are at risk of losing this important competitive advantage. Aa I sat in a conference room in Costa Rica today, I thought that I would probably describe myself as a dependable despite all my actions to the contrary. How ironic. So, ask yourself,are you a venture or a reliable? Your answer may determine whether you would prefer the Costa Rica of today or the possible one of the future.