On Wednesday, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute  (ICT) announced that 1,285,599 foreign visitors arrived in the first six months of 2012. That’s a 7.4 percent increase over the same period last year. For 2011 as a whole, Costa Rica received 2,195,960 foreigners, up just 4 percent over the prior year.
ICT’s 2010-2016 National Sustainable Tourism Plan aims to boost tourist arrivals by five percent annually. So the 2011 figures exceeded the target.
In explaining the recent increase, officials point not least to increased airlift from North America to Liberia ’s Daniel Oduber International Airport, in Guanacaste . Liberia accounted for 343,000 arrivals, or about eight percent of visitors arriving by air (the balance land at San José ’s Juan Santamaría International Airport). For example, Jet Blue  initiated four-times weekly New York-Liberia flights last November; and Frontier Airlines  began direct flights from Denver .
ICT’s clever global marketing campaign—Costa Rica’s Million Dollar Gift of Happiness—featuring an adorable talking sloth (see my blog post ) and $1 million in giveaways no doubt also gave the country a boost of publicity.
ICT has been accused of conflating tourist arrival numbers with those of Nicaraguan and other Central American migrant workers. See my blog post  of March 12, 2012.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s National Office of Statistics  last week posted data showing that tourist arrivals to Cuba jumped from 2.5 million to 2.7 million in 2011—a seven percent increase.
Having spent six months in Cuba since last November while leading "Cuba: Discover its People & Culture"  trips on behalf of National Geographic Expeditions, I can vouch that all Havana's hotels are jam-pack full.
Visitors to Cuba were also feeling less parsimonious than in recent years, apparently, dropping $2.5 billion—an increase of 12.8 percent for 2011.
No doubt this bump in per person expenditure owes much to the influx of U.S. visitors initiated in 2011 when President Obama  created the people-to-people  (P2P) license provision guaranteeing every U.S. citizen his and her constitutional right to travel to Cuba (albeit on highly structured group trips for “educational exchange”). The Cuban government charges U.S. companies significantly more for the privilege than it does Canadian and European tour operations.
Fair enough! One can hardly begrudge them doing so as a simple reflection of that all-important capitalist principle—supply and demand. Ha! It appears that the Communist government just 90 miles across the Florida Straits has more in common with the U.S. than ‘we’ have heretofore admitted.
Only a handful of U.S. organizations are licensed to offer P2P trips, which sell at a premium. Nonetheless, they sell out in a heartbeat, reflecting the vast pent-up demand of U.S. citizens to fulfill their constitutional right to see Cuba for themselves and make their own determinations about the place.
The Latin American Working Group  fights a good fight on your behalf with its ‘End the Travel Ban on Cuba’ campaign...
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Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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