One more sunrise on the beach before catching one of the last flights out amid U.S. state department warnings to leave now or stay indefinitely.
As March drew to a close we headed home after traveling around Costa Rica for a few weeks doing what we’ve done on close to 50 trips over almost 30 years – discovery.
For the past three weeks we were checking off destinations for the “Costa Rica’s Best Kept Secrets 2020 Edition” – climb Volcán Platanar ☑, 4WD route 319 ☑, Pozo Verde Crater Porvenir Volcano ☑, Rio Carara ☑, & Cerro Terraba ☑…
The emphasis was on creating new itineraries to promote small, unique, rural family attractions, emphasize ecology and culture and also avoid the crowds that were becoming more common as Costa Rica’s popularity skyrocketed.
That last goal is suddenly sadly easy to accomplish.
Starting Over in Costa Rica Tourism
In a few days tourism went from a foundation of the Costa Rican economy and major source of foreign exchange to zero.
Between the second and third week in March foreigners were prohibited from entering the country, all national parks and reserves closed, and most beaches were off limits. Boutique lodges and mega resorts like the Ríu Palace shut down completely with no schedule for re-opening, transportation and tour companies “laid off” all employees and ceased operations.
Hundreds of thousands are facing months without paychecks. Much of Costa Rican tourism operated outside the international corporations as family owned and operated hotels, one man and one van transport and guide services and unique small attractions, restaurants and tours. There are dozens of private wildlife refuges and forest reserves that depended exclusively on entrance fees to protect the environment.
These entrepreneurs don’t have venture capital or large cash reserves to survive months of quarantine and their only hope is future bookings. Quarantine is the perfect time to get started planning the trip of your dreams.
A few companies are fighting to remain open and support their employees with partial paychecks. Many are being battered by demands for full immediate refunds. With cash flow frozen and everyone scrambling to survive it only takes a few unfair demands to wipe out bank reserves and destroy a company.
A few unreasonable people have decided that the crisis is a legitimate excuse to ignore policies they agreed to and use threats of negative publicity to gain preferential treatment at the expense of workers, businesses and other travelers.
Fortunately, many more are joining the call to #reschedule or #postpone using credits offered by travel planners, hotels and tours.
If you’re trying decide on the best time to re-schedule or plan a Costa Rica vacation you should probably consider September or October.
- Costa Rica Government estimate – April 12th. The likelihood of this happening is zero (0%)
- Optimistic estimate – July. 20% chance with some luck and no more blunders.
- Realistic soonest – September.
- Pessimistic – 2021.
Although the government closure of the borders to foreigners was announced on March 18 to last until April 12, it is likely that it will take much longer. The exponential phase of the growth in the number of detected cases in Costa Rica was barely beginning at the end of March.
Two to three months may be a reasonable estimate to “flatten the curve” but returning to normal will take much longer. The number of new cases will resume accelerating and the curve will skyrocket again the instant internal restrictions on movement are relaxed. Even countries like South Korea that immediately implemented proactive testing and isolation policies to successfully slow new cases aren’t anywhere near reopening after four weeks.
Countries like the U.S. where the early response consisted of claims of “tremendous control” over the pandemic and pretending it would blow over, lies about health care capacity and ignoring testing recommendations as new cases exploded into exponential increase will take much longer to regain control.
Even if Costa Rica contains the virus it can’t re-open its borders until visitors no longer pose a threat of inoculating a second wave. For example at the end of March China resealed its borders to foreigners as the number of cases in the U.S. surpassed all other countries and it became the new epicenter of the pandemic and largest potential source of spreading.
The steps back to normal.
- Seal borders to prevent spread worldwide. Unfortunately this only works if you act quickly and countries waited in denial until it was pointless – they were already inoculated and the virus was spreading internally – closed the stable door after the horse had bolted.
- a) Test/Trace/Treat – widespread testing and investigative methods to identify and quarantine a small number of people
b) Tell everyone they must avoid everyone else because no one knows who’s infected or exposed and there aren’t enough tests to find out
- Begin rebuilding the world economy
The U.S. began testing much to late for 2. a) Test/Trace/Treat to work and was forced into the draconian everyone stay-at-home approach on round one of infections. It’s possible there will be some relief heading into May or June as the initial explosion of cases run their course with everyone in isolation. The initial cases will provide immunity to the survivors who will begin to act as a buffer between the infected and unexposed.
Hopefully the response to round two will be more educated. New test are being developed to detect immunity in people who caught the virus but did not have significant symptoms.
For a return to anything close to normalcy in international travel there will have to be a vaccine or huge increases in testing and decreases in transmission.
Unfortunately for Costa Rica its own response will be overshadowed by its giant neighbors and mainly the U.S.
According to their own appointee in the FDA “The administration made a decision to significantly limit the access [to tests] in the beginning.” A number of universities and research institutions went against administration policy and began development of tests on their own but without the support of the federal government the quantities were vastly insufficient.
In the weeks that the administration fought to deny the crisis in order to bolster the economy they were actually sealing its doom by allowing the virus to spread undetected. Once it was clear that it was spreading and nothing had been done to prepare the only remaining solution was to tell everyone to stay home precipitating economic devastation.
The crisis may take much, much longer to contain if restrictions are lifted prematurely instigating another round of infections. Unfortunately this isn’t as unlikely as it seems. As detected cases began to accelerate at the end of March, U.S. “leadership” demonstrated a total lack of understanding and an utter disconnect from reality stating a desire to reopen the country in a couple of weeks by Easter.
Try to be reasonable when demanding a refund. First, in many cases you aren’t entitled to one because that was the policy you agreed to. Second, most airlines, travel planners, hotels and tours are doing everything in their power to accommodate rescheduling with flexible exceptions to the policies you agreed to. Third, there isn’t any money anyway so your tantrum can’t possibly help.
Refund policies from one international travel mega corporation are shown below. There’s not even an option for “instant, full cash refund when something unexpected happens.”
- No Refund – No refund offered for any reason or timeframe.
- Strict – Bookings canceled at least 60 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund
- Firm – Bookings canceled at least 60 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 30 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.
- Moderate (recommended) – Bookings canceled at least 30 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 14 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.
- Relaxed – Bookings canceled at least 14 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 7 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.