04 JUL 2017: Most nations are grappling over green issues but one country just might have this market cornered. Costa Rica. The Central American hub boasts a small population of only 4.8 million and is blessed by a bounty of eco-tourism products. Think of a green rich terrain offset by a strand of volcanoes, a bulging countryside, and a world of flora and fauna. Even naturalist and BBC broadcaster extraordinaire Sir David Attenborough has waxed poetic over the sight of a three-toed sloth there.

But I digress.

Considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, Costa Rica is home to 28 national parks, eight biological reserves and a series of protected areas that, as I learned on my recent trip, has been catching the attention of Canadian ecotourism lovers for some decades now.

33rd Travel Mart EXPOTUR

In May, Costa Rica hosted its 33rd Travel Mart EXPOTUR the region’s premier travel trade show which organizers report has attracted the largest attendance ever in its history.

The three day event which took place in the capital of San Jose welcomed 2,000 attendees including sellers, buyers, providers, special guests and media who had a chance to meet with tourism and hospitality businesses from the Central American region. Event organizers report 290 sellers, of which, the majority were Costa Rican and 200 registered buyers from 34 countries including Canada and the United States were present.

Essential Costa Rica. My Choice, Naturally

The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) also has partnered with the United Nations World Tourism Organization and CNN International in its newest global marketing campaign. Dubbed, “Essential Costa Rica. My Choice, Naturally,” guests previewed the new promo video that officially launched on June 6.

"We are making a breakthrough with this unique approach. It will be executed on the most diverse platforms, where we’ll reach a wide range of markets like never before. ‘Essential Costa Rica. My Choice, Naturally’ is a sensorial, inspiring and aspirational campaign that shows Costa Rica as a destination that generates authentic travel experiences, which create a sense of well-being in visitors," Costa Rica’s Minister of Tourism Mauricio Ventura announced at the opening gala ceremony held at the Teatro Nacionale.

Ventura later elaborated on a popular Costa Rican expression “Pura Vida” meaning pure life as a phrase that has 25 different meanings for a thousand things. Read: pretty much the adage applies to everything.

Pura Vida Proof

Is it any wonder then that the Happy Index study ranks Costa Rica among the top happiest nations? (This year it ranks no. 12 just below Israel). It’s been said the president of the Republic of Costa Rica Luis Guillermo Solis sees Ticos (a term for Costa Rican people) as the happiest for several reasons:

• High literacy rates (98 percent according to UNESCO)

• No fears of hunger, cold and war

• They have no military because, “We didn’t want to fight with everyone and international law is our main defense,” explains the Tourism Minister.

As Ventura outlined the above reasons he added, these “make people live happy lives,” but admitted not everyone has everything they want. “There is still poverty in the country.”

Yet, people live longer in Costa Rica he noted. At a press conference he compared the world average longevity for folks over 100 years old to the Costa Rican longevity average. Costa Ricans, it seems, outlive the rest of us.

“The world average for over 100 years old is 1 to 8500,” he says while in Costa Rica the longevity ratio is 1:3500.

Sustainability in Costa Rica

Sustainability is not a practice in Costa Rica, it is a way of life. With a goal to be the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2021, sustainable practices are observed in every region of the country, across all industries, adopted by all citizens and embraced by visitors. Twenty six percent of the country is officially zoned protected territory, which demonstrates the value placed on preserving the environment and the natural plant and animal species that call Costa Rica home.

Sustainability is also big business. Since 1997 the ICT has rewarded local entrepreneurs for their sustainable practices through its Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) programme. Consumers recognize the certification through a leaf symbol logo. One leaf represents minimal sustainable practices while the highest level of five leaves are frequently for carbon neutral companies. As of May, the ICT reports over 347 companies, ranging from lodging, tour companies and car rentals in Costa Rica as CST-certified.

In 2015, the ICT reported annual tourism revenue of US $2.8 billion. The Central American destination welcomed over 2.9 million international arrivals in 2016. Among the international visitors, the ICT reports nearly half (1.2 million visitors) were from the US and Canada. Canadian visitors accounted for 188,104 arrivals.

The Canadian Influence

On attracting Canadian tourism arrivals, the Minister told Travel Industry Today in an exclusive interview that Canada was an early adopter of the country’s eco-tourism strategies when the CST was first launched over 20 years ago and remains a top source market. “When Air Canada started charter flights over 20 years ago it clearly helped us to position our nature product when this new (sustainable) tourism started in Costa Rica,” he said.

The Costa Rica Tourism Ministry reports Canada as the second biggest market. Canadian travel companies like Sunwing are investing in new hotel developments with the opening of a Hard Rock hotel slated next year.

“The Hard Rock hotel will be good for the North American market and for those who appreciate this brand,” said Alejandro Castro, the Chief Marketing Officer for Essential Costa Rica on this new hotel development which he hopes will result in a Domino effect attracting more Canadian investment and increasing air connectivity.

Last year, Canadian visitor arrivals increased 7.6 percent while in this year’s first quarter the Ministry reports there has been a 15.6 percent growth from last year.

In the meanwhile, there are plenty of wild discoveries to be had in this Land of Pura Vida.

Photos by Ilona Kauremszky

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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