Costa Rica sees ailing tourist trade stagnant in 2021 after COVID-19 blow

FILE PHOTO: People swim in the Celeste river waterfall at Tenorio Volcano National Park in Upala March 18, 2008. The blue color of the lagoon, formed from chemical reactions of calcium carbonate and sulfur, is surrounded by amazing rainforest of 12,819 hectares of this park. The Celeste river carries its color for a distance of 36 km (22 miles). REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Tourism to Costa Rica will likely stagnate this year at the sharply reduced levels of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, weighing on the economy of the Central American country, a top government official said on Saturday.

Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura said Costa Rica will in 2021 probably receive about one-third of the 3,139,000 international tourists it had in 2019, on a par with last year, when some 1,011,000 foreign visitors arrived, official data shows.

In an interview, Segura said around 75,000 tourists came to Costa Rica in December, down from 327,000 a year earlier, underlining the challenge facing the popular tourist destination and the industry as a whole in Latin America.

“Though the figures are better than those of some competitor nations, many companies can’t get going again,” Segura told Reuters, noting that the extent of recovery would depend on how the pandemic developed and how vaccination efforts progressed.

Battered by the loss of tourists, the Costa Rican hotel and restaurant trade shrank by 40% last year, the central bank said.

In 2019, tourism represented 8.5% of gross domestic product and 9% of formal jobs in the country of 5 million people.

Segura projected that in 2021 it will only be worth around 3.5% of GDP and that the industry will shed about half the employment it generated, or about 100,000 jobs.

The minister was hopeful that Costa Rica’s focus on nature tourism would reduce some of the attendant risk with people being outdoors. He also pointed to the fact the country’s health system had managed to avoid saturating its hospitals.

Costa Rica has to date registered 193,276 infections and 2,604 deaths linked to COVID-19.

Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Editing by Steve Orlofsky