|By Karla Arias Alvarado, The Tico Times,
San Jose, Costa RicaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 13, 2012--The last 15 days of December forecast a healthy tourism high season for Costa Rica. According to the National Tourism Chamber (Canatur), Costa Rica had a hotel occupancy rate of 70.6 percent at the end of the year. The rate represented an increase of 4 percent in comparison to the end of 2010.
"These results show that the sector is improving, and this creates confidence among hotel owners that [high season] will also show improvement," said Canatur President Juan Carlos Ramos.
Canatur interviewed 113 hotel owners in the country's major tourism regions.
"The challenge in the tourism sector for 2012 is not the high season, but what will happen after the month of April and during Easter. There is still a big question mark about the low season, and we are hoping that by the end of March we will know what to expect for the slower months," Canatur Executive Director Mauricio Cespedes said.
According to the study, the southern region of Guanacaste, a northwestern province, had the highest hotel occupancy rate at 80 percent, followed by northern Guanacaste with 79 percent, and the Northern Zone with 78.4 percent. The central Pacific coast and Puntarenas province had 77 percent occupancy at the end of the year, while the southern Pacific region had 71 percent.
Occupancy rates were lower in the northern Caribbean region (62.4 percent), Monteverde (59.4 percent), the Central Valley (57.2 percent) and the southern Caribbean region (57.2 percent).
According to Canatur, each year the beginning of high season receives a boost from national tourism. This year, national tourists made up an average 47.4 percent of beach hotels' occupancy rate. According to hotel owners and administrators interviewed by Canatur, high rates were obtained thanks to last-minute reservations made by Costa Ricans.
The report also showed that five-star hotels were mostly occupied by foreign tourists and reached an occupancy rate of 78.4 percent. National tourists chose to stay mostly in one-star hotels, which reported an occupancy rate of 82.4 percent.
"During the last week of the year, the national tourist always plays a main role in the activity. During this period we have been noticing that the national tourist is more inclined to take vacations. We also noticed that U.S. tourists are showing a similar pattern, but we have not yet been able to return to spending levels that existed before the [global economic] crisis," Cespedes said.
Canatur's executive director was also optimistic about a possible increase of tourism in the province of Guanacaste due to the new terminal at Daniel Oduber International Airport Terminal in Liberia, which opened yesterday (TT, Jan. 4). According to Cespedes, Guanacaste is not the only region that will directly benefit from the new airport terminal. Other regions including Monteverde and towns near the Arenal Volcano will also receive more tourists from Guanacaste via Liberia's airport.
The two Caribbean regions had both the most drastic increase and decrease in comparison to last year's numbers. At the beginning of last year's high season, the northern Caribbean region had an occupancy rate of 36.2 percent. This year that rate increased to 62.4 percent. The southern Caribbean region dropped from 72 percent at the end of 2010 to 57.2 percent at the end of 2011.
"The Caribbean regions always have a tendency of showing slower results at this time of the year since December is not the peak period of tourism," Cespedes said.
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