Earlier this month, we were interviewed by Ana Baez and her team of consultants about the role that Cayuga and its owners Hans Pfister and Andrea Bonilla have played in development of sustainable tourism in Costa Rica in the past 20 years. During the interview, the concern about the impact of large branded/all-inclusive hotels came up in the discussion. As a result, we dug a bit deeper and were able to compile the following information from the Costa Rican Tourism Ministry ICT.
81% of lodging operations in Costa Rica (hotels, resorts, lodges) have less than 60 rooms and average about 19 rooms per hotel.
The Costa Rican Tourism Model is unique in the way that visitors most often visit three to four hotels during their stay and therefore getting to know several parts of the country. This model is often referred to as “democratic” as it spreads the tourism dollar between several players. The different small hotels, the transport provider between hotels, the attractions and tours in the destination, the restaurants and shops. This is very different from the mass tourism model that is prominent in destinations such as the Mayan Riviera, the Dominican Republic or the coast of southern Spain. But it seems like this model has gained ground in Costa Rica.
10% of hotels and resorts in Costa Rica (a total of 48) with more than 100 rooms represent over 44% of all hotel room inventory in the country.
This concentration is in sharp contrast to the way that Costa Rica promotes its brand and experience. Most guests that stay at a large all inclusive or branded hotel will be transported from the airport to the hotel and back and not leave the premises unless it is a tour organized by the hotel. The contribution to the local economy is not as direct and beneficial for small businesses on the ground. We have voiced our concern about this model in the past in this blog.
What is even more worrisome is the impact of “residential” tourism. Visitors from abroad that make it into the statistics of the 2.5 Mio+ tourism arrivals each year, but that do not stay at hotels or lodges but rather rent condos, apartments or houses. The problem here is that these transactions are not taxed and the staff at those operations are often part of an informal economy where labor regulations, social benefits and taxes are simply ignored. We might look at this topic in more detail in one of the next blogs.
This month’s opening of the 400+ room Dreams Resort in Guanacaste and the 150+ room Crocs Casino in Jaco might have shifted the balance further towards the big resorts and make it more difficult for smaller hotels and lodges to compete.
There are a lot of great organizations in Costa Rica though, that continue to promote the Costa Rican model of “Small is Beautiful”. Besides the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges, there are the Greentique Hotels, Enchanting Hotels, Small Distinctive Hotels, Pacuare Lodge and Grupo Islita that have done a great job in creating high quality sustainable tourism experiences.
We would love to hear your feedback and experiences. Send us a note to [email protected].