There’s no sugarcoating it, things look bleak for tourism right now. And the Costa Rican tourism industry is no exception. But other than screaming and panicking and waiting for government help that might never come, there are some small things we can do that might make a difference.
I wish I could look at the Costa Rican tourism industry from the point of view of a detached outsider. I’d feel bad and all, but it wouldn’t affect my life too much. I’d shake my head and make all the right noises before going back to my comfy state of self-isolation that’s becoming the new norm.
But I can’t look at it as a detached insider. I, like around nine percent of people who work in Costa Rica, work in tourism. I have lots of friends who work in tourism. Most of them, in fact. And like my fellow nine-percenters and my friends, I’m worried. I wonder how we’ll survive in the short to medium-term.
Long-term, we’ll be fine. I’m sure about that. We’re resilient and nothing lasts forever. Coronavirus will pass, and hopefully sooner than the projections predict. It’s the short-to-medium-term, I worry about.
I look at the civil strife in Nicaragua a couple of years ago that decimated the tourism sector there.
It still hasn’t recovered. Nicaragua’s tourism industry was far smaller than Costa Rica’s. It was important, sure. It was growing and was for years the “next big thing” in Central American tourism. For the poorest country in the region, tourism meant hope for the future until Ortega ruined things.
But as I said, it was far smaller than Costa Rica’s tourism industry and represented a smaller piece of the pie.
And even so, it still pretty much ruined the country.
This is why I look at the Costa Rican tourism industry and worry, alongside nine percent of Costa Rica’s workers and about 90 percent of my friends.
With no incoming tourism for at least the next three weeks, and possibly longer, things look very bleak for us all. That goes for travel agencies, hotels, tour operators, rental-homeowners, transportation services, and everyone else. Not to mention restaurants, bars, domestic airlines, and rental car agencies. This is massive.
So what can we do as an industry? Can we actually do anything? I believe we can.
I’m not talking here about government policies, pricing issues, or specific law changes. That’s for another article. I’m talking about a few basic things we can do right now, working together, to stay afloat.
1. Don’t panic!
From what I’ve just written it would be easy to panic. Believe me, I’m having my moments and I know I’m not alone. But panicking is futile. It doesn’t change anything and just makes you crazy. It’s important to get things in perspective.
Right now, getting things in perspective, public health is more important. We’re being told to stay in and flatten the curve, so let’s do that. The more of us who do that, the quicker we can be over this.
It’s vital to believe – to know – that Costa Rica is a world-class destination with a lot to offer. It’s the best destination in the world, everyone familiar with tourism in Costa Rica knows that. We have an amazing product.
The thing to remember is that our amazing product will be in major demand once this crisis is over. And this crisis WILL be over. We don’t know when, but we know it will be. We just need to hold it together until it is.
2. Be flexible.
This one is a no-brainer and applies to all of us. We’re a service industry at the end of the day, which means we serve. Let’s make it easy to change or cancel your vacation to Costa Rica, without being difficult. Let’s understand that no matter how scared we might be, our clients feel the same way.
There’s a hashtag trending right now: #Don’tCancelPostpone. That’s the ideal scenario for all our clients, not to cancel outright, but to put off their trip until better times. Maybe they’ll need to put off their trip more than once. That’s okay.
If we’re flexible, if we’re understanding, if we’re serving, then we’re creating a good experience for our clients during difficult times which they’ll remember down the road. The goodwill we show now will be priceless later, just wait and see.
At Namu Travel, we’ve been inundated with cancelation requests this past week or so, just like every other tourism business in Costa Rica and elsewhere in Central America. It’s been horrible. But we believe, we hope at least, that our flexibility has helped serve our scared and anxious clients well. It’s what service is about and what goes around comes around. Our Costa Rican Vacations Travel Experience Team has been absolutely outstanding.
Even in the worst of times, let’s give our clients the best of service before they set foot in the country. That will create an even better impression of Costa Rica when things calm down.
3. Look inside ourselves.
I’m not trying to sound like a hippy, I’m literally talking about marketing to each other here, in-country, rather than abroad. It might help a little, you know?
Most hotels here in Costa Rica are smaller, and many of them are set on acres of land with a lot of space. There aren’t too many massive resorts that pack in guests like sardines here. It’s never been our style.
So what this means is that in this day of social isolation, maybe we can promote our beautiful boutique hotels and retreats as places to socially isolate for Costa Ricans and people who live here? God knows social isolation will be easier if we can do it somewhere beautiful for a couple of days here and there. I’ve already seen a few places promoting themselves this way.
Let me be clear, I’m not advocating blowing off the social isolation and going to the beach or whatever to party. I’m advocating using the spaces we have, in suitable hotels, to give people a change of scenery. I think it might help extend the whole social isolation thing anyway, by keeping people sane.
Either way, my point is, let’s help each other here in Costa Rica. We need getaways too and we might be the difference between the lights staying on or going out in the coming weeks and months.
4. Help each other.
One good thing that might come out of this crisis is that maybe we’ll appreciate each other more once it’s over. The tourism business here is a community and we need to recognize that and try to start on the same page. Let’s try to stick together and bounce ideas off each other.
For this reason, we’ve formed a Facebook group to facilitate this. Big deal, you might say, there are a million Facebook groups about Costa Rica. That’s true. But we want to focus this one on the travel business down here. We want to answer as many questions as possible and bounce as many ideas off of each other as possible.
So whether you’re a traveler yourself, confused about any aspect of coming to Costa Rica in these times or otherwise, or if you’re here in-country as an individual or representing a business, please join our group.
Perhaps between us all, we can work together and come out of this thing even stronger than before. I’m hopeful.
What ideas do you have to help the Costa Rican tourist industry during the current crisis? We’d love your input!
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.