Costa Rica: Moving Beyond Eco-Tourism

Long known as a destination that placed a high priority on preserving and enhancing its rich natural beauty, Costa Rica is in the process of raising its visibility as a host of luxury meetings and conferences. The latest evidence occurred last month (May) at the country’s annual Expotur Travel Mart when government officials unveiled plans for a new 170,000-square-foot convention center, scheduled to debut in 2018 (pictured above).

Not that Costa Rica is stepping back from its long-time commitment to what it calls pura vida, translated as living the pure life in harmony with nature. Indeed, meeting planners and incentive trip organizers have always brought groups to this Central American country that were interested in exploring the rain forest; preserving turtle, crocodile and other endangered species; and touring prehistoric volcanoes. And that’s not to mention white water rafting, ziplining, snorkeling and assorted other eco-adventure activities.

To the contrary, the government intends the new Centro Nacional de Congresos y Convenciones to be an extension of its long-held belief in sustainability. Located five miles from the Santamaria International Airport and six miles from the capital of San Jose, the facility will incorporate a list of environmentally friendly features that reads like a tree hugger’s wish list: reflective roofing, sunshades, solar power, motion-activated sensors, insulated walls, LED lighting, storm water utilization. The list goes on.

Another plus in terms of access: the convention center is easily accessible to one of the country’s main transportation links, the General Canas Highway.

The center’s maximum capacity is expected to be 4,600. But like all such facilities, the country’s hotels and resorts can contribute additional meeting and event space, both indoor and outdoor, as well as appropriate room blocks.


Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, in Guanacaste.

Seventeen Costa Rican hotels and resorts are Elite Meetings–certified, ranging from properties that are part of well-known global brands like Four Seasons, J.W. Marriott, Westin and Andaz (Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort), which is part of Hyatt, to independent properties such as Villa Caletas, Beacon Escarzu and El Mangroove. Properties range in size from the 406-room Westin Golf Resort and Spa, Playa Conchal to the 310-room J.W. Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa and 202-room Secrets Papagayo to the more modest 15-room Hotel Azul Ocean Club and the 27-room Beacon Escarzu (both appropriate for exclusives, particularly for executive level retreats and incentives).

Like any Central American or Caribbean destination right now, planners and incentive program organizers can expect:

–Questions from attendees and participants about language and local currency. English is widely spoken and U.S. dollars widely accepted. (Costa Rica is also known for its political stability and safety.)

–Heavy demand for pre- and post-conference stays. A no-brainer, given the country’s reputation for physical beauty, pura vida consciousness and adventure travel options.

–Flexibility in negotiations. Especially when there’s leeway on dates and especially when those dates fall in the shoulder or slow seasons. With Cuba opening up to group travel from the U.S. in the next four or five years—and with it the competitive advantage of novelty and newness, expect that willingness to negotiate to be even greater.


Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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