CRC Daily: Pandemic caused Costa Rica tourism to plummet nearly 70%

The numbers aren't pretty, but we do have pretty charts.

We finally know the full impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on Costa Rica’s tourism sector in 2020. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t pretty.

Costa Rica received just over 1 million international arrivals in 2020, down 68% compared to 2019, when the country welcomed 3.1 million people.

The data look particularly bad when focusing on April through December, the months affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Over those nine months, Costa Rica registered a 93% decrease in arrivals compared to 2019.

“Uncertainty and restrictions derived from the pandemic caused world tourism to collapse,” said Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura.

There was a slight uptick by December, when Costa Rica received 75,000 arrivals. Still, this amounts to a 77% decrease in contrast to December 2019.

These numbers are disappointing, but not surprising.

Let’s look at the charts

2020 began with encouraging signals: More people entered Costa Rica in January and February than those same months in 2019. Then the pandemic reached Central America.

Costa Rica closed its borders on March 18, and international arrivals flatlined. From mid-March until August 1, only citizens and residents could enter the country.

Costa Rica finally reopened its air borders on August 1, gradually expanding the list of allowed visitors. By November 1, Costa Rica had eliminated the requirement for a negative coronavirus test and opened airports to all tourists, leading to a moderate rebound in the final two months of the year:

The tourism sector called April through August its “Zero Season” — referencing the number of visitors entering Costa Rica. In those months, unemployment reached 24%, the highest on record, and it remains high.

The Tourism Board shares arrival data from as far back as 2005. Their figures show that 2020 was by far the worst year in recent history:

Will tourism rebound in 2021?

“World tourism is still under the effects of the pandemic, which makes it difficult to make projections or estimates for the future,” says Rodolfo Lizano, director of planning at the Tourism Board.

“With the arrival of the vaccine, the increase in efforts to contain the virus, and the reopening and reactivation of tourist activities, we hope the numbers will show a rebound during the second half of 2021.”

That rebound may be hampered by a new U.S. policy requiring a negative coronavirus test from all returning air travelers. The United States is Costa Rica’s largest market, and the testing mandate will be a deterrent to travel.

U.S. (and Canadian) policy is out of Costa Rica’s control, but the local economy cannot afford another “Zero Season.”

“It’s not enough,” the Tourism Minister said in reference to the 113,000 total arrivals in November and December 2020. “During the pandemic, we are all learning as we go.”

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