Costa Rica Love is in the Air

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RCA Winner Logo If there was any doubt that good things come in small packages, consider that, for the third year in a row, our Readers’ Choice Award for Best Destination in Latin America goes to Costa Rica: the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

True traveler-love of Costa Rica originated from its appeal as a vacation choice for adventurers and nature lovers who came to experience the awesome wonders of a unique tropical eco-system: cloud forests, volcanoes, a mind-boggling wealth of flora and fauna sheltered in national parks and reserves, with beaches on both Pacific and Caribbean shores. The great outdoors continues to contribute to the country’s appeal to hikers and bikers, surfers and anglers, golfers and river-rafters, certainly honeymooners—the country also took top prize this year as the Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Latin America—and families, and those who just want to kick-back amidst beautiful surroundings.

All these attractions keep inbound tourism numbers at impressive heights, even during trying economic times. According to Maria Amalia Revelo, deputy manager and marketing director for the Costa Rica Tourist Board (ICT), “2011 is proving to be a good year for us, showing a 6.5 percent increase for the first half of the year. Our relatively new sectors of medical tourism and volunteer tourism have taken off, and the announcement of a [forthcoming] national convention and exhibition center comes at a most opportune time when business travel is increasing from the U.S.”

Costa Rica may be on the verge of becoming even better known and more beloved, not only in the travel industry but by travel-minded consumers at large. In October, ICT launched in the U.S. and Canada its “Costa Rica’s Million Dollar Gift of Happiness,” an advertising campaign that seeks to spread happiness by giving away $1 million worth of exciting travel trips, each focused on a theme: Romantic Happiness, Adventure Happiness, Wildlife Happiness, Adrenaline Happiness and Authentic Happiness (themed for culture). The official hub for all this happiness is Visit Costa Rica’s Facebook page ( visitcostarica), where to-be fans of Costa Rica preview five videos corresponding to each trip experience. Using a strong social media component—Twitter, influential blogs and popular news as well as Facebook—the campaign hopes to encourage North American travelers to explore the country’s natural beauty, thrill-seeking adventures and sustainable tourism practices, also sharing these experiences with friends and family.

ICT’s Revelo has no doubt that, “while this campaign is consumer focused, it will benefit our travel trade partners with positive buzz about Costa Rica.” Additionally, she points out that the campaign reinforces Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability by including hotels, tour operators and rental car companies that all have Certifications of Sustainable Tourism (CST). The most recent addition to the hotel sector will undoubtedly be Starwood’s first all-inclusive, the Westin Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal. The property, formerly Paradisus Playa Conchal, is being totally renovated, bringing it up to CST code at the time of opening: scheduled for the end of this year.

Inspiration for the “Million Dollar Gift of Happiness” campaign came from the New Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, which rates satisfaction based on a country’s quality of life, life expectancy and environmental footprint—Costa Rica was recognized as the happiest place in the world. This vote was seconded by the Gallup World Index’s The World’s Happiest Countries, which also rated Costa Rica one of the happiest places in the world, as well as definitely the happiest place in the Americas.

Best Selling Destination in Latin America Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Latin America.