February 2015

Costa Rica gets attendees in touch with the great outdoors

by Mark Chesnut

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    Volcano tour, Swiss Travel

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    White-water rafting, Swiss Travel

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    River tubing, Hacienda Guachipelin, Guanacaste

Costa Rica has spent years honing its image as a haven for nature lovers. For meeting and incentive planners, this Central American nation’s natural beauty translates to an ever-wider variety of options for memorable venues and exciting group activities.

“Costa Rica has a bustling city, a sophisticated hotel infrastructure—from boutique lodges to major international business hotel brands—combined with natural landscapes and unique adventure activities,” says Alejandro Castro Alfaro, director of marketing at the Costa Rica Tourism Board. “The destination sets the stage for unforgettable group experiences. From ziplining and hiking in the rainforest to surfing and whale watching on the coasts, Costa Rica offers a setting that makes it easy to have successful meetings and fun-filled adventure excursions once business is done.”

To get an idea of the type of natural splendor that awaits, consider this: Costa Rica is home to more species of butterflies than Africa and more species of birds than the continental U.S. and Canada. The nation has two coastlines along the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, with more than 600 miles of beaches. And more than 25 percent of Costa Rica’s land area is protected from development. Some 95 percent of the energy consumed comes from renewable sources, and now the goal is to become one of the world’s first carbon neutral nations.

Meeting planners can choose from unique event venues like butterfly gardens, coffee plantations and sprawling country clubs, or challenge their groups with teambuilding activities like white-water rafting and rappelling. According to Pablo Solano, executive director of the Costa Rica Tourism Board, the MICE market is expected to grow 15 percent annually in the coming years, with 750 international meeting groups arriving in 2015 alone.

“Meeting planners choose destinations that are exciting for attendees and that create interesting experiences that incorporate the local culture,” Castro says. “With these components, all of which Costa Rica offers, planners can generate excitement and increase participation.”

Castro adds that meeting planners are getting more specialized in terms of what they seek for groups in Costa Rica.

“We are seeing more and more retreats within niche sectors, including wellness, family-focused organizations, sports enthusiasts all looking for the latest trends, education and training. We are also seeing that training sessions and seminars are being combined with teambuilding excursions that offer authentic personal experiences of the destination, which can ultimately provide companies with more ROI and increase employee productivity.”

Many meetings and incentive groups enjoy hikes, yoga retreats and share a number of wellness experiences like soaking in thermal baths, according to Castro.

“White-water rafting on the Pacuare river is a great team-building experience, because you have to work together to navigate through the river,” he says.

The allure of nature for groups is a big part of the sales pitch for El Mangroove, an 85-room member of Preferred Hotel Group that opened last year on Papagayo Bay in Guanacaste.

“Costa Rica is a world model in terms of preservation and care for the environment for its commitment to sustainability,” says Jose Monge, the hotel’s general manager. “More of our guests are looking for unique experiences they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world, so in 2015 we will be offering groups new packages to really customize their gatherings.”

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