Welcome and "Bienvenidos" signs and actions were everywhere. Never have I traveled anywhere where the intent of that word was so earnestly implemented by everyone we came into contact, with whether a tourism employee or not.
Recently a group of eight Tahoe travelers joined 14 others from Canada and the U.S. on a journey through Costa Rica to relax while learning about ecotourism. What we found was an entire country of mixed backgrounds (ethnically and professionally) who comprehend the makeup of their country's economy, as opposed to just their portion, or that of their community. They inherently understand that exportation of their agricultural products (bananas, pineapples and coffee) as well as electronic and medical products are reinforced in part via their $2 billion tourism industry.
Not only did each citizen (known as a "Tico") understand the importance of tourism to their economy, but they embraced their individual customer service role as related to the visitor's experience. In fact the only, and sadly lasting, negative experience we had on this entire journey was with several United Air Customer Service representatives in Houston, where we were met with indifference, unkempt appearances and sour attitudes, rather than genuine care or customer service.
Throughout Costa Rica, whether traveling on our own via automobile, which we did for five days, or traveling by bus with the group for a week we encountered Ticos who were glad we had come to visit. Construction and farmworkers waved as we drove by; clerks in hardware stores, grocery stores, gas stations, banks, pharmacies and more all strived to assist, and always thanked you for your visit and purchase. When visiting farms or processing facilities for pineapple, coffee and chocolate we were thanked not only for visiting, but for our country's purchases of their products, and advised as to how that helped the local Tico economy. At roadside stops you were thanked for making a contribution to their local economy. And yes, they really used the phrase "thanks for helping our local economy," exemplifying the depth of their understanding.
The Tahoe contingency couldn't help but compare it to holdout Tahoe locals who dispute the effects of tourism, or those who display offensive bumper stickers on their cars, or use profanities or slang on the slopes towards our visitors. How is it that we have a portion of our citizenry who are unwilling to work collaboratively to improve our tourism destination providing a future for all citizens, when Costa Rica has accomplished much more since it set its course to become a tourism destination in the 1990s?
At dinner our final night the group from Tahoe discussed what it could mean for our local economy and citizens if we were to strive to become a "bienvenidos" tourism destination by working together as opposed to inventing conspiracies. Thus it was rewarding to attend the Blue Ribbon Awards dinner on Nov. 15 where examples of individuals and businesses were honored for their commitment to providing exemplary service and products. Congratulations to all of the winners and may we all look to you for inspiration.
I will share more on the implementation of ecotourism principles and tourism activities observed in Costa Rica in the next edition of the TahoeChamber Business Review, due out in January of 2013.
- Betty "B" Gorman, B.S., J.D. A.C.E., is the president/CEO of TahoeChamber.org.