Is tourism to Costa Rica based on a hoax? Is Costa Rica’s leading touristic position among other nearby countries simply a product of public relations? In an elaborate hoax of its own, recently performed by the tourist office of Ecuador, those issues were sharply highlighted.
An unidentified person working for the Ecuador Tourism Ministry recently arranged for a group of 40 young Ecuadorians to take a vacation trip to Costa Rica. He arranged for them to check in at an airport counter falsely identified as one for Costa Rica flights. Once aloft, their plane spent a couple of hours idly circling, to give these 40 passengers the illusion that they were going to distant Costa Rica. On landing, they entered an airport building bearing the sign of Costa Rica’s airport. They checked in at a fake immigrations counter, where they were given fake Costa Rican immigration papers to fill out. The airport personnel were clothed in fake Costa Rican uniforms.
To prevent the group from discovering the hoax, their GPS devices and cellphones were jammed and made inoperative. They boarded a bus and went to a beachside resort hotel bearing the tourist emblem and slogans of Costa Rica (but it was simply a beachside resort of Ecuador). They proceeded to enjoy a full week of swimming, boating and hiking, much to their utter enjoyment. Only at the end of the week were they advised that they had been in Ecuador - not Costa Rica - the whole time!
The Costa Rica tourism office is, of course, livid. It is threatening to sue, to haul Ecuador before the United Nations, to impose sanctions. The tourist department of Ecuador has, of course, apologized and claimed that the entire hoax was the brainchild of a rogue employee of theirs. The department will never do it again.
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But they have left a question unanswered: Is the leading touristic position of Costa Rica - its unquestioned eminence in tourism -simply a product of good public relations? Is Costa Rica’s success simply a matter of hype?
Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer’s blog at frommers.com.