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The Future of Tourism
Chambers of Tourism in Nosara, Samara and Carrillo Developing New Strategies

By Arianna McKinney
Pictures by Rolf Sommer and pinar istek
The waves in Guiones and Samara are mostly of the time, small enough to learn how to surf, even for the small ones.

While tourism in Costa Rica is increasing in general, the coastal destinations of Nosara and Samara remain at the bottom of the list of tourist destinations in Guanacaste. According to data provided by CATURGUA, the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism, only 1% of international tourists visit Nosara and 2% visit Samara. Even so, that small slice of the income generated by tourism is crucial for these communities that have come to depend on tourism in a large way. 

The State of Tourism in Costa Rica

The quantity of foreigners visiting Costa Rica in 2011 increased by 4% compared to the previous year, with an estimated 2,183,815 tourists entering the country through all entry points, according to a report from The Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) dated December 15, 2011.

One boost for tourism is the addition of new airline routes to the Daniel Oduber International Airport (AIDO) in Liberia, including four weekly flights from New York with Jet Blue, one flight every two weeks with Air Berlin from Berlin, Germany and additional flights from Denver, Colorado, USA on Frontier, according to ICT. 

In 2011, ICT also reported 26.8% increased participation in fairs to promote tourism, especially in fairs held in the United States, the principal source of foreign visitors to Costa Rica. They also initiated the “Costa Rica’s Million Dollar Gift of Happiness” campaign on Facebook (Visit Costa Rica), awarding 40 trips to Costa Rica and generating about 80,000 fans, 77% of whom are from the United States.

“According to the latest official data, on average the tourist stays within the country is 11.9 nights and in this time spends $1,244,” reported Daniel Retana Carmiol, from ICT’s Regional Southern Guanacaste Office in Nicoya.

“The economic crisis, as well as the decreased value of the dollar, has been a heavy blow to the tourism sector in all of the province. 2009 was characterized by a decrease in arrivals of tourists to AIDO; however since 2010, the number of visitors has been increasing,” cited Veronica Grant, executive director of CATURGUA.

In the beaches of Guiones and Samara, businesses offer classes to surf and
stand up paddling.
In November 2009, the Guiones beach was chosen as one of few areas to have
Tourist Police office. Local businesses finance some of their expenses such as
rent and utilities. Photo / Photo Pinar Istek
The rodeos offer the opportunity to learn and participate in the typical culture
of the province of Guanacaste.

However, since 2009, she explained that the offers of services have also been increasing. That means that more options are available to tourists, increasing competition to attract visitors.  
Sustainable Nosara: Uniting Efforts

More than 80% of Nosara’s employment is directly or indirectly related to tourism, estimated Marco Johanning of the Nosara Chamber of Tourism and Sustainable Development. With a hopeful outlook for the upcoming season based on ICT data that indicate a recovery of national and foreign tourism, Johanning pointed out that new business can be seen in the community, ready to attend to the potential demand for goods and services. 

For many years, efforts to market tourism in the district of Nosara have been performed on an individual basis by private businesses and nonprofit foundations. However, in 2010 a formal Chamber of Tourism was finally formed. Johanning commented that the creation of a Chamber “is necessary to give an identity to Nosara and organize the town so that positioning efforts in the tourism market are made under the same direction.”  
Nosara’s Chamber is looking to build on the foundation laid by those individual efforts in order to coordinate current efforts and strengthen them, according to Johanning. “What the commercial businesses have to understand is that it is more efficient to position ourselves as a community than as individual businesses,” he said.

Allied with the Civic Association of Nosara, they have created the Sustainable Nosara identity. “We consider sustainability to be the correct path; we don’t want to commit the same errors as all the other coastal communities in Costa Rica. We want to maintain an organized development, considering the natural beauty and resources of our region along with the local community,” he explained. The Chamber’s aim is to attract educated, family-oriented tourism that is respectful of health and nature and interested in the local community rather than attracting easy tourism with vices such as alcohol, drugs and prostitution, polluting the area without respect for natural resources or the community.

Johanning affirmed that Sustainable Nosara’s mission is to integrate all of the surrounding community, including not just Guiones and Peladas beaches but all of Nosara. The group doesn’t want to exclude or marginalize sectors, creating pockets of poverty or problems with education and values that originate a chain of social problems such as drug addiction, prostitution, lack of security, pollution and the extinction of natural resources. “Everything goes hand in hand if we don’t develop sustainably,” he commented. 

Currently, the Sustainable Nosara’s 10-member team has been meeting diligently every week. During this first year of working together, Johanning reported that they have hosted their first Expo Fair, promoted the Blue Flag ecological program and the Certificate of Sustainability for schools, establishments and hotels, as well as establishing working alliances for the years to come with government entities and the private sector.   

Samara: Attracting Events and Marketing Online

Although Samara had a Chamber of Tourism as early as February of 1999, the Chamber disintegrated in about 2002, after one of the group’s primary organizers, Marco Carmona, left Samara for a while. In March of 2010, the current Chamber of Commerce, CASATUR, was organized by Carmona, the current president, and Giancarlo Capponi, the current vice president.

Although a small percentage of Samara’s economy is still generated by fishing and agriculture, Carmona estimated that at least 90% now comes from tourism. The economic crisis three years ago definitely affected the town, with an initial decline of maybe 25 to 30%, Carmona said; however he affirmed that since October of 2011, tourism has been picking up and the outlook for the coming year is “rather good,” especially with more national tourists.

While tourism is recovering after the economic crisis, Samara faces another problem as well: its own growth. “Samara in particular and all of Costa Rica in general, have problems caused by rapid business growth.  

Horseback riding tours are one of many attractions.
Along with surf, yoga has been one of the main activity in Nosara that brings
tourist to the area.

As we have more activity and more tourists in town, we also have issues that accompany growth, problems that a small developing country doesn’t have the infrastructure or the funds to solve. It is up to the community itself to resolve the issues that we create with our growth,” explained Lavae Aldrich, former CASATUR board member. 
In the last couple of years, the number of options available to tourists in Samara has grown, with more restaurants, hotels and cabins that are, for the most part, run by local people. “The local people don’t want to invest in marketing,” Carmona pointed out. “They want to live from the marketing that the large hotels do.”  

Carmona estimated that Samara may have around 100 businesses now, about half of which collaborate with CASATUR, but he noted that the principle collaborators are the four businesses in which the most active leaders of the Chamber themselves work, and since each member also has a business to run, the time they can dedicate to the Chamber’s efforts is limited. Nevertheless, CASATUR has been working hard to awaken interest in the population of Samara, and several promising results are being achieved. 

With the aim of gaining Blue Flag status for Samara beach, the group has focused on cleaning and recycling projects, collecting funds to pay someone to clean the streets and organizing cleaning of the beach, as well as promoting recycling and working with the municipality toward initiating a program of recycling for the canton, hopefully beginning in February. Carmona said they presented their efforts to ICT in November 2011 and are anticipating the Blue Flag award announcements in February. 


Ties Between CATURGUA and local Chambers of Tourism

Veronica Grant, executive director of CATURGUA, reported that this year CATURGUA was able to visit this part of the coast and form closer ties with the Chamber of Tourism in Samara. In addition one major hotel in Samara and one in Nosara are affiliated with CATURGUA (Villas Playa Samara and L’acua Viva).  However cooperation between the many tourism-related businesses in Samara and Nosara with CATURGUA has been limited.  “They have the erroneous idea that because of being so far away from the Daniel Oduber International Airport, they won’t be benefited by those arriving there,” Grant explained, since CATURGA operates a tourist information center in the airport. However, CATURGUA plans to continue efforts to promote teamwork with the local Chambers.  

Toward that end, CARTUGA dedicated five pages in the latest issue of their magazine Guanacaste “the sunny side of Costa Rica” to highlighting the beaches of Southern Guanacaste, including the beaches of Ostional, Nosara, Guiones, Garza, Samara and Carrillo, and they also plan to promote local activities and services on the Internet. 

Marco Carmona, president of Samara’s Chamber of Tourism, commented that CATURGUA works more with tourist destinations in northern Guanacaste but he affirmed that Samara’s Chamber is working with them, participating in seminars and being included in propaganda presented by CATURGUA at a national and international level.


Another marketing strategy is to invite groups to hold events in the Samara area. Carmona reported that plans are in the works for a surf championship, beach volleyball and a triathlon in the upcoming year.  

Efforts to highlight Samara online are also increasing with the launch of new Samara-based websites.  While the commercial website samarabeach.com has been in place since 1997, the new websites have a slightly different emphasis. 

CASATUR launched its own site, www.samaratouristboard.org, on October 1st, which so far has 279 distinct readers from five continents, according to Aldrich, the site’s designer. The site was built not only to promote Samara as a tourist destination but also to inform the community about events and issues of concern and to showcase businesses that contribute to CASATUR with direct links to the businesses’ websites. Aldrich explained that they decided not to create sub-pages for member businesses because they didn’t want to compete with commercial websites like samarabeach.com. Since CASATUR is composed of volunteers, she said they don’t have the capacity to provide the same services a commercial site can provide and they do want the commercial sites that feature Samara to succeed. 

Another new website launched in December is samarainfocenter.com, which is designed to fill other gaps in the community’s online presence, including a monthly calendar of community events, classified ads and a free job bank for employers to post available positions and for individuals to post notices about the kind of work they are seeking. Brenda Dragonne, who recently opened the Samara Info Center to promote the businesses of Samara, Carrillo and surrounding areas, explained, “We were just thinking of other ways to help the community. No one else had [a job bank] and there was a need.”  Anyone who wants to be included in the job bank can stop by the Samara Info Center, across from Hotel Giada, and fill out a basic form to add a posting to the job bank.  

The primary commercial website for Samara, samarabeach.com, was launched at a time when online reservations for travel was a new notion, according to the site’s designer Francesca Cossutta. Since then, she said she has redesigned the site several time, adding new features and using other methods like free maps, Facebook and Twitter to promote Samara and Carrillo (carrillobeach.com). Visitors to the site are directed to make reservations directly with the featured businesses. Francesca reported that some hotels receive up to 80% of their reservations as a result of the website. 

The three websites collaborate with each other, as samarabeach.com is a gold member of CASATUR and is featured on their website, and Samara Info Center features CASATUR on their website and contributes to CASATUR projects, Aldrich pointed out.  

“Change is slow but steady. We are trying to create a strong community here in Samara,” Aldrich remarked. 

Carrillo: Bridging the Beach to the Town

Since the town of Carrillo is up the hill from the beach, many visitors don’t even realize the town exists with several hotels, restaurants and other services for tourists, noted Cinzia Guindani, treasurer or Carrillo’s Chamber of Tourism. The Chamber is now toting the invitation: “come a little further up.”

One brand new initiative to bridge the gap between the beach and the town is a rancho built by the Chamber on the beach to let tourists know that the nearby town has restaurants, hotels and everything else. In fact, tourists will be able to order food from local restaurants at the rancho and have the food brought to them at the beach. Tables with umbrellas have been set up.



The Chamber also launched a page on Facebook in November, Camara de Turismo de Playa Carrillo – Costa Rica. The page has just over 70 friends now. They also created a brochure about Carrillo this year, which Guindani indicated did not previously exist, and they have been distributing it around San Jose as well as at ICT’s tourism expo in Escazu. 

Carrillo’s chamber was formed in September of 2004, and although they don’t have a specific marketing plan, Guindani said they always try to do many things to promote tourism. 

With so many efforts by the various Chambers of Tourism representing the communities along the southern coast of Guanacaste, hopefully the local economy will receive added stimulus in 2012.

Arrivals of International tourists to Costa Rica by all points of entry

Source: CATURGUA Market Study April 2011

Tourist per nationality


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