“Costa Rica is shaping up to be a pioneer destination for travel recovery”
Andrea Holbrook returned this week from her most recent visit to Sarapiqui. We sat down with her to get her thoughts on Costa Rica travel, the latest at Selva Verde, and what it’s been like to operate an eco-lodge during the pandemic.
Q: What’s it like to travel to Costa Rica now? How much has it changed since pre-pandemic?
Andrea - There are some important differences, and entry requirements are one of them. At this time you need to have a health pass, which is a very simple form that you complete online 48 hours before your departure. You do not have to have a PCR test to enter Costa Rica although you are required to have a negative antigen or PCR test within 72 hours of returning to the United States. In terms of change within the country in Costa Rica, it’s essentially a more private experience without the crowds which so many people really treasure and enjoy. There's a sense of returning to the early days of ecotourism.
Q: How are the country's travel providers coping with COVID in terms of the lower levels of visitors?
Andrea - Many of the lodges, the activity providers, and local tour operators have been very deeply impacted with next to no income for over a year. I think some were recipients of domestic tourism, but otherwise, they had to really tighten their belts. Sadly, there were many jobs that were either shortened, or in some cases, lost. However, there's great hope for the future that tourism will come back and everybody will be back working.
Q: Is next year shaping up in Costa Rica to return to pre-pandemic levels?
Andrea - Nobody has a crystal ball but I believe the country's feeling very hopeful about next year. And many people I spoke with reflected the idea that Costa Rica is well positioned to be a sort of pioneer destination in terms of recovery from the pandemic. That is, in part, due to its stellar reputation as a developed country with excellent health care and because of the quality of the outdoor adventure experience as people want to be outside more. Also, for 2022 the country is still impacted by postponed trips planned from before. This is making it quite difficult to get space during high season.
Q: You visit Selva Verde on a regular basis. What was your mission on this particular trip?
Andrea - My mission on this trip was to support our General Manager so he could take a break and to support our Assistant Manager and the rest of the team. I also attended our annual Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center board meeting, held annually in the second half of October. Finally, I was there to see the upgrades we have been making to our facilities such as air conditioning in our Sarapiqui rooms.
Q: How would you describe the mood at the lodge right now?
Andrea - I would say that the lodge is having new life coming back! There's a sense of normalcy with guests, checking in and checking out, having that be not something that is occasional and unusual but something that is an everyday occurrence. Even though the occupancy is not what it was in other years it's still great to see regular activity returning.
Q: What protocols are in place to safeguard visitors at the lodge and on the tours?
Andrea - Selva Verde follows the COVID protocols as stipulated by the Ministry of Health for hotels and lodges. We have a sanitizing station for guests that are arriving and we spray alcohol on everyone's hands. We also do temperature checks upon check in. All of our staff is masked and we do ask for our guests to be masked when they are indoors, even if it's a ventilated area. On our hikes or bird walks we maintain social distancing. We don't require our guests to have a mask on if it's not a crowd outside but the guide is always masked.
Q: Are visitors able to do the same activities as always? Are there any restrictions on what you can do?
Andrea - Yes, thankfully, it’s really very much the same. Whether bird walks, nature hikes, night hikes, whitewater rafting, zip-lining, or chocolate tours -- all of the major activities are the same. There's really no major change other than the implementation of protocols with sanitation and mask usage depending on the tour itself.
Q: The lodge is only one of your many responsibilities. You serve on several nonprofit boards, you lead Holbrook Travel and Selva Verde, how do you manage it all?
Andrea - I think the biggest support comes from the wonderful teams at Holbrook, Selva Verde, and at the Learning Center. I'm also on the boards of the Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center, the Center for Responsible Travel and Climb for Cancer. My family is hugely understanding and supportive and allow me to dedicate a lot of time to these efforts and initiatives so it's really about team and family.
Q: The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on travel and despite these difficult times, you always manage a smile and a sense of humor. How do you always stay so positive?
Andrea - I feel that you have to be full of appreciation and gratitude for all the good things and the opportunities that I have been given. I hear stories all the time of difficult times that people go through. And I always feel lucky. I sometimes still have to pinch myself that it's my job to see the world and connect with people in other cultures and make friendships. It's just a wonderful livelihood, and I feel so privileged so that helps a lot. And it's a gift to be able to have the family that I have and the quality of life that I have and that is just something I appreciate a great deal and it keeps me positive.
Q: Do you anticipate any long lasting changes to Costa Rica tourism as a result of the pandemic?
Andrea - Not really. I see people ready to continue to pick up where they left off, to some degree, but with changes and innovations -- positive things. I've seen Costa Rica's resilience during this time. I do not see them turning away from tourism. It's just sort of part of the DNA. There may be little changes here and there but I see them continuing in what has become a really important part of the economy and part of the whole society of Costa Rica.