The number one question we get is…
…the answer to “when?” depends on…
“what will international travel be like when Costa Rica re-opens?“
The Ministry of Health’s stance that no foreigner visitors will be allowed unless the safety of citizens is absolutely guaranteed is dire news for Costa Rica’s struggling travel industry.
The complete closure of international borders is obviously not sustainable and has not even succeeded during the months it has been in force. While blocking international tourists is easy, illegal crossings of the “closed” border account for the majority of new cases.
The ministry proposal to open travel only from countries with limited transmission is equally unrealistic. First, the “safe” countries (Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Norway, Denmark, Greece and the Czech Republic) only ever accounted for a few visitors. Second, Costa Rica may be kicked out of the group after experiencing a 1000% increase in new cases in mid-June compared to May.
Vaccines and treatments offer a long term solution but realistically won’t be proven effective and universally distributed for years.
Costa Rica’s failure to prevent Nicaragua’s first wave from washing over the border emphasizes the reality that cases will rise and fall around the world for years to come showing the need for a plan that doesn’t involve hiding in isolation.
The idea to replace international tourism with increased domestic travel is hopeless on every level. Locals travel in a completely different manner taking day trips in their own vehicles rather than two weeks at a resort. Additionally, Costa Ricans never had anywhere close to $10 billion a year to spend on travel and vacation budgets will decrease not increase as the economy struggles.
The ministries of health, immigration and tourism continue to “collect data”, consult each other, and “study” possibilities while the shutdown drags into a fourth month.
With the government mired in the political fantasy of providing perfect security forever, innovative solutions are needed.
Evidence is accumulating that the best place to be is outside which is great news for Costa Rica. Even better is the observation that rural areas have much lower levels of transmission than densely packed cities.
Unlike the museums and cathedrals of Europe Costa Rica’s main attractions are outdoors and no-one spends any more time in San José than they absolutely have to.
The reason it’s safer to be outside is that indoors air stagnates and over time the micro-droplets carrying viruses concentrate in the room as people breathe, sneeze and cough. Outside the air moves and the infectious particles disperse. It’s even safer when there’s wind and Costa Rica is one of the most consistently breezy places in the world. Vehicle emissions are horrible in Costa Rica but air pollution doesn’t usually seem too bad because the constant trade winds blow it all out to sea.
There’s also evidence that the vertical flow hepa-filtered air in modern jets creates a safe enclosed environment so travel to and from is low risk.
The first thing most people will notice missing while trying to plan are a lot of flights. Some airlines won’t survive and the ones that do will be operating restricted schedules.
After arriving the most noticeable absence will be crowds of people. We estimate it will take 5 years for the number of visitors to Costa Rica to return to pre-virus levels. Despite the rapid growth prior to the pandemic and the fact that a lot of people are really going to need a vacation numbers will be less than half of normal through 2021 for a number of reasons.
There will also be businesses missing from the map. Most Costa Rican tourism businesses held little cash and there are no government programs for small businesses. Many didn’t survive the initial wave of refund demands combined with zero income while shutdown. Others will slowly starve for business over the second half of 2020.
Businesses are attempting to temporarily realigning their offerings towards the “national” tourism market. Hotels, tours, attractions and reserves and refuges have always offered local discounts of 20% to 80% but they will struggle to remain open without high paying international visitors to subsidize the lower rates.
There is going to be a lot of price volatility as airlines, hotels, rental owners, transportation and tour companies try to balance recouping massive losses while competing for reduced numbers of tourists.
The magnitude of the hole that local travel related businesses will need to dig out of is staggering. Most tried to keep paying employees even though there was little for them to do and no income. Expenses didn’t stop, and the debt comes with interest rates as high as 15% in Costa Rica.
The worldwide depression will reduce or eliminate vacation budgets and traveler numbers will take years to recover.
The economic law of supply and demand will initially drive desperation and price wars to capture the shrunken market. Ultimately though the supply will shrink as businesses fail and prices will rise as the survivors try to keep up with increasing expenses.
We’ve seen airfare as low as $29 but couldn’t begin to guess whether that airline will be around to honor the tickets when travel resumes.
Ultimately prices must go up to pay the huge debt created by the shutdown, increased costs of doing business and reduced numbers of customers.
NOTE: this is just an idea to try to help a few of the 100,000+ workers and businesses shut down for months by the border closure. If you don’t like it just ignore it and it will probably go away. No need to tweet obscenities or post threats on our facebook page.
Our brainstorm to restart travel with low risk to Costa Rican citizens is the creation of moving isolation bubbles.
Visitors would be picked up by a dedicated driver/guide/escort who would accompany them on their entire trip from one foreigner only bubble to the next all over Costa Rica.
Hotels and restaurants would choose whether to serve only international travelers or only Ticos. Beaches would be segregated with locals on the north end and international travelers on the south for example. Tours and national parks could separate chronologically by alternating foreign and domestic days ensuring international visitors and locals didn’t mix.
A qualified, dedicated escort could be nearly the only point of contact between the foreigners and Costa Rica – waiting the table and paying the bill during meals, describing birds and wildlife on hikes, securing the harnesses on ziplines and serving drinks in the hot springs. The escort/guides would be tested and monitored and maybe even quarantined away from the general population.
Either self drive rental cars (need to rent one size bigger so the guide has a seat) or chauffeured tourism vans could be used equally easily.
It would be different and more expensive than what people are used to but it would also provide an excellent personalized service for every single visitor, restore jobs, re-open thousands of businesses, bring in billions of dollars.
Sound crazy? Maybe, but it’s better than no travel for months or years which is effectively what the Costa Rica Ministry of Health proposes to ensure zero risk to citizens. It’s obviously not the perfect solution but if you have a better idea let’s hear it!