Wilhelm Von Breymann, Costa Rica’s new minister of tourism, gave a speech as part of Expotur’s opening ceremony. // © 2014 Mark Chesnut
Feature image (above): Scuba diving and snorkeling in the protected marine area of Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica is a popular draw for tourists. // © 2014 Costa Rica Tourism Board
Ecotourism, new niche markets and a new government administration were among the hot topics at this year’s Expotur, Costa Rica’s 30th annual tourism conference. The event, which took place May 14-16 at the Wyndham Herradura Convention Center near San Jose, attracted attendees from 37 countries and more than 300 tourism and hospitality businesses.
Speeches by Costa Rica’s new president, Luis Guillermo Solis, and the new minister of tourism, Wilhelm Von Breymann, were highlights of the opening ceremony for the event, which was organized by the Costa Rican Association of Professionals and sponsored by the Costa Rica Tourism Board.
“Costa Rica remains competitive at a global level, thanks to ongoing improvements and innovations made within the tourism industry and our continued commitment to the sustainable tourism model, which continues to be the country’s top priority,” Von Breymann told attendees.
According to current statistics, Costa Rica received more than 1 million international visitors between January and April this year, a 6.3 percent increase compared to the same period in 2013.
During a private meeting with journalists, Von Breymann discussed what he considers potential areas for growth in Costa Rica’s tourism segment. He told reporters that he’d like to see the development of more intra-Central America travel, encouraging travelers to combine multiple countries.
“The idea is to take Central America and turn it into a single tourist destination,” said Von Breymann.
He predicts growth for other niches, including health and wellness travel as well as meetings and conventions, which he said will get a boost from a brand-new convention center slated to open sometime after 2015.
“We have to modernize ourselves,” said Von Breymann. “Costa Rica has always been green. We have to go beyond green.”
Von Breymann also noted the importance of a new tourism council, the Consejo de Competitividad Turistica (Council of Competitive Tourism), which was founded this year to increase communication between the public and private sectors as well as among various ministries within the government itself. The new council — which includes representatives from the ministries of health, education, infrastructure and security — will meet multiple times throughout the year to coordinate an all-encompassing approach to develop and promote tourism, said Von Breymann.
According to official figures, this year’s Expotur generated at least $15 million in total revenue and produced more than $800 million in local revenue. Organizers also claim that this year, the gathering became the first-ever carbon-neutral travel mart, with all greenhouse gas emissions produced by the event measured and compensated by carbon offset efforts.