Costa Rica Pretty Much Chased Away the “Boomer” Tourist

Where have all the Boomers gone? In fact where are all the tourists? Q asks why?

Once again the promise of thousands upon thousands of Baby Boomers who were forecast to descend upon our tiny Paradise making every real estate agent as well as land owner rich has simply fizzled out.

We can blame the world recession which probably did have or might still have a negative impact on the amount of both tourists and retirees who once flocked to Costa Rica. But that is not enough.

Baby-BoomersThe Boomers never where going to come and Costa Rica pretty much chased away the “Boomer” tourist.

Boomers born between the years 1946 to 1964, just in the U.S. represent better than 78 million people or 26% of the entire population. It is true that 7,980 people turn 60 years old each day or 330 people every hour.

Japan and Europe will come with 40m + more Boomers and we can safely expect there are 100 million people in total.

Here in Paradise, we market our perfect climate, safety  (except for earthquakes, assaults, home invasions and killings), the “Pura Vida” lifestyle where today’s chores can stretch into the many tomorrows (procrastination) and  the country truly offers exceptional natural beauty which along with inviting warm ocean waters, good medical care at reasonable prices.

So where are these Boomers, retirees, tourists that were forecast by the board of tourism (ICT) and the real estate developers to over run the country with their money, ergo making so many locals indeed rich?

The busiest of tourist seasons has just passed by and 50% 60% of the hotels polled said that they were only  50% to 60% occupied unless the hotel was all inclusive, on the water front, with a mega promotional budget and guests could eat turkey sandwiches with non-fat mayo, low fat cheese along with a slice of tomato plus lettuce: wilted or not, 24 hours a day for one, single, albeit, expensive price.  For the entire year of 2012, The Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles reported a 54.1% occupancy rate. A significant drop from even recession times. Many have just closed their doors in a defensive mode.

Hundreds of cruise ships have avoided Limón and its flamboyant Reggae “style” of life, its perpetual robberies and since there is nothing to see or do for eight hours except protect your wallet.

And, on the other side of the coin are the more educated economic studies which conclude that unless the place is truly “cool”, not expensive and within close proximity to the United States the Boomers and tourists will not be coming.

an affluent 58-year-old is certainly more valuable than a 22-year-old who is just getting by

An affluent 58-year-old is certainly more valuable than a 22-year-old who is just getting by.

Think about this: Per capita more retirees and tourists prefer Mexico over Costa Rica even with a 60,000+ murder rate and cheap but corrupt Ecuador ranks right up there, not to mention less cheap and also more corrupt Panama than our very own “no military”, ecologically centered, peaceful sense of Paradise with a toucan on every corner, i.e. Jurassic Park.

However, even these more popular per capita places, which have increased hotel occupancy in high-season 2012 , have their own question marks up the flag pole asking, “What happened to the 78 million U.S. Boomers and the 2+ million tourists?”

One is the complete misunderstanding as to the Baby Boomer’s “wants and needs”.  It is estimated that 79% of all Boomers will keep on working bringing that worldwide 100 million down to 81 million candidates.

Polling, which is never very accurate, suggests that U.S. Baby Boomers, “Are not ready and may never move more than 150 miles from their primary home.” And, they tend to spend no more than one month per year, average, as visitors to their secondary home. That sounds like a tourist to me?

And why not Costa Rica?

We are primarily a vacation spot, have been advertised extensively as such and remain ill equipped to serve the longer term active retiree. (Notice the words “active retiree” which suggests they do not have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel). And as such, the cost of living as well as community activities are far more advantageous in Mexico, Panama, and Ecuador.

Those Boomers with more expensive tastes also demand more expensive services which are more readily available in the Bahamas. Those living on Social Security or a fixed income find the cost of living in Pura Vida country, almost to the person, horribly expensive and public services highly questionable as well as costly.

babyboomers800

To assume that the aging Boomers are coming to Costa Rica and willing to lower their personal standards of living is absurd.

And so the advertisements goes, live cheaper, live in better weather, live tax free, explore the many beaches, visit the magical rain forests and live the good Costa Rican life.

Well, active retirees might do some of those things and may even a lot during their one month stay, but those are exceptions to the rule and most seek weekend side trips, fish, play golf, shop, go to movies, eat good food,etc.

John Speirs, a leading developer of and manager of active retirement communities in the United States points out that Costa Rica has no coordinated system to attract active retirees, not even as tourists.

The Boomer, according to Speirs, wants community living with their peers close at hand and that includes their favorite sports; golf, tennis, fishing, boliche: they want to be near “clean “water (lakes or oceans), they must be no more than 1 hour from a major hospital and 15 minutes to a primary physician, no more than 1.5 hours to an international airport, 15 minutes to get to a police station, and most of all…lots of things to do and lots of international food stuffs within a short distance of their accommodations.

The environment is not here yet and we must understand that much like the genetically treated corn, this type of project needs to fit the foot of the customer and not ask the customer to fit our only shoe size.

We have the raw ingredients; we just do not have the elements or the commitment to bring in export money through tourism and retirees.

 

Sources; U.S. Mortgage Bankers Association, United Nations Census Bureau, Speirs & Associates

About Juan Sebastian Campos

Juan Sebastian Campos An expat from the U.S., educator and writer in English and Spanish since 1978 with a doctorate in business administrations (DBA) from the United States and Germany. A feature writer for ABC News, Copley Press and the Tribune Group with emphasis on Central America.

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12 Responses to "Costa Rica Pretty Much Chased Away the “Boomer” Tourist"

  1. Donaldo  20 February 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I used to visit Costa Rica, often, but not anymore. High prices, corruption, lack of trust of the locals, ripping off tourists at every turn, crime? where to I start, corrupt police, corrupt security personnel, tourists and expat’s are targets for scams, theft etc. Can’t even leave the airport in a rental car with fear of having your tires slashed while at a restaurant and having a local assist in changing a tire while they steal your luggage.
    No more Costa Rica for me, and I don’t have a problem in spreading the word.

  2. Doc  22 February 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I have been here over a year and have had a backpack stolen off a bus, right in front of local passengers. They of course didn’t see anything !! Got shaken down by a cop for my rent money …home invasions are common. I feel sorry for all the people who came down here and bought $400,000 house and are trying to sell them 5 yrs later at a fraction of the cost. Just check all the listings under “moving ” in Costa Rica Craigslist !

    I still am amazed at how the locals can afford going to the grocery. I leave with $60 worth of stuff that fits in 2 small bags.

  3. John S.  24 February 2013 at 7:09 pm

    I loved Costa Rica and was actually building a house to retire in in Santa Ana, I got fed up with the unending crime, highly inflated prices and the huge headaches to accomplish even simple bureaucratic necessities. I checked out Panama and never looked back. Much more modern, safer and easier to live.

  4. Len  18 July 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I owned a house in Costa Rica and was very happy to sell it in 2008. Costa Rica as a place to live was untenable for me. When I came down from my home in Florida, I would enjoy the first week, get an attitude from dealing with the Ticos in the second week and by the third week I was completely fed up and ready to leave.
    Frequently people ask me about Costa Rica and I tell them not to believe anything they read since most all of it is a lie. I tell them that in Costa Rica lying is viewed as an art form. They actually seem to appreciate each other’s lies. Unlike what’s written in the travel brochures, Costa Rica has a high crime rate and a low literacy rate. For many Ticos if they once learned to read, they now don’t read, won’t read and haven’t read. The extent of ignorance in Costa Rica is disturbing.
    Add to this the Costa Rica subtle attitude towards gringos and it’s certainly not surprising that gringos are choosing to go elsewhere. In fact most all of the gringos that I know who have lived in Costa Rica for more than 10 years are seriously contemplating moving to another Latin American country – Colombia, Panama and even Nicaraugua.
    AND, this does not even conider the fact that automobiles are nearly twice as expensive, electronics are 70% higher and clothes are at least 50% higher than in Panama or Florida. The most disturbing is that chicken and a doz eggs are nearly twice the price in Costa Rica as in Florida or Panama and chicken is a staple of the Costa Rican diet! Wine that I can buy in Florida for $15 will cost $27 in Costa Rica, but only $7 in Panama. In many of these cases, it’s casued by a combination of import taxes and these industries being controlled by the wealthy families in Costa Rica who charge what they wish since they control the market place without competition.

  5. Len  18 July 2013 at 8:38 pm

    From and old Bob Dylan song….”You ask me why I don’t live here…Tell me why it is that you don’t move.”

  6. Dan  5 August 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Been here 10 years. If it weren’t for my kid being here….I would be LONG gone. Prices are insane, the cities are ugly, hard to do business….and I could go on and on. Stay away.

  7. Heredia Joe  13 August 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I have lived here in the city of Heredia for two years now and love it! I live in a small apt complex and am the only gringo. The Ticos are great to me and I have made other friends by doing some volunteer work. People are warm and friendly and I live 10 minutes from a new hospital; my doctor is less than 10 minutes away and when I have called the local police about teens drinking out back of the apts the police were here in 5 minutes. I have never encountered a threatening person or had anything stolen even when I forgot my Kindle in a little restaurant the owner came running down the street to give it to me! She didn’t even know what it was! The difference may be that I choose to live as a Tico, have my legal residency and eat the local diet. If you don’t enjoy the wealth of fresh veggies and fruits that are available here for pennies I am not sure what would please you. I eat at local small restaurants where my hot lunch with drink is around $6.00. Of course, as we say, “keep the bad news coming about Costa Rica as it keeps the gringos away.” We don’t want the whole place spoiled by us! It is not cheap to live here so, unless you are coming here because you like Costa Rica and what it has to offer to your life, you will not be happy. I wasn’t looking for a cheap place to live but a place that was different, peaceful, beautiful and friendly. What some enjoy other will not enjoy; that is what makes life interesting. Personally, I hope the 81 million baby-boomers all go to Panama or Ecuador; they are equally beautiful countries and it will give those of us who choose to live here more room! It is a small country after all! Pura Vida!

    • tommy_one  3 October 2013 at 11:26 pm

      I bet if you had an iphone instead of a worthless Kindle you’d never get it back. Who steals books in Costa Rica? lol

  8. LeeH  3 October 2013 at 7:58 pm

    We’re looking at Costa Rica as a retirement spot but will probably not move to CR because the government makes it difficult for people who want to move, compared to other Latin American countries like Belize, NIcaragua, Panama and Ecuador. I don’t kinow why Costa Rica decided to make it difficult, like not being able to open a bank account or get a driver’s license until you are a permanent citizen. You have to leave every 3 months, even if you just cross the border and come back. What is the point of that? The government should just charge a fee or $150 to renew for another three months and then the government would get the money it badly needs instead of having expats spend it in neighboring countries to make the border run. Costa Rica should be welcoming expats who bring in money, but they don’t. They should at least match the offers other Latin American countries are making to try and draw expats to retire there. It makes absolutely no sense. If they don’t want retirees from the U.S. and other countries, they should just say so.

    • tommy_one  3 October 2013 at 11:31 pm

      Correct, honest people can’t bank. Yet, the country’s main industry is laundering Cartel money, go figure.

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