Is The International Airport A Reality?

A week ago, I was reading the Tico Times and the headline “Liberia Airport Renovation Nearly Finished” jumped out at me. It’s only been nine years since that airport opened, and now it’s getting $41 million dollars worth of renovations?? I had to figure out why, if only because it might offer a flash forward to what we can expect when (emphasis on “when”) the International Airport opens up in the The Zone, also known as, the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica.

Air port in Costa Rica
Regional to International, the Osa Airport Dilemma

Long Lines

Whether it’s checking into a restaurant, hotel, or airport… people do not like to wait, especially when the line stretches out the door. Long lines and airports are synonymous, but the leaders at Liberia International (and the Guanacaste business owners) have figured out that a bad traveling experience doesn’t inspire repeat customers. The Liberia airport is scheduled to re-open any day now, and just in time for the tourist season.

The Profitable Impact

Did you know that 225,224 passengers arrived at Liberia’s airport last year*? That’s an average of 18,768 people per month and just over 625 per day. In January, foreign visitors in Guanacaste, increased by more than 28% over January of 2010. With the upgraded facilities (think mini-Juan Santamaria), services, and new carriers (JetBlue, Air Berlin), they are clearly anticipating an increase in arrivals in the near future.

The Liberia airport has done wonders for the development (read- boom) of Guanacaste. Not only does the airport employ hundreds of people from the community, it also stimulated new business opportunities in the immediate area, including— hotels, car rental companies, and commercial centers.

Conversely, there can be, and usually is, a relative downside to rapid development. Have you been to Tamarindo lately? I went two years ago, and the sleepy beach town I visited in 2002 was almost unrecognizable. The main strip looked like it had a SoCal facelift, the renown beach break was packed with surfers, and I found myself longing to be back in quiet and verdant Zone.

How It Relates To The Zone

The second most popular question we get is “When is the International Airport in Palmar going to open?” My answer: “I have no idea.” It’s not that I don’t read up on the subject, it’s just difficult to believe the words of Alberto Cole or the Minister of Tourism.

As I mentioned in an article a year ago, the construction of this airport goes hand in hand with the construction of new hotels. (At this point the area doesn’t have enough beds to accommodate an extra 400+ people/day in The Zone… especially in the high season.) Adding small to mid-sized boutique hotels isn’t an effective and complimentary plan. For the airport to be viable, large 100+ room resorts will need to be built and one need look no further than Guanacaste and its growing pains to be concerned.

To date, Ben and I have not heard anything concrete regarding new resorts in the area. Taking that one step further, there are only a handful of residents who want this airport to be built. Simply put, the majority of people who most desire this new International Airport… are people who don’t live here.

Air port in Costa Rica
Tiger Heron in the Osa Peninsula

The Ecological Impact

Some of our reader saw the recent article in the Environment section of the The New York Times. The article outlines the potential ecological impact on the Osa Peninsula, an area that boasts 3% of the World’s known biodiversity. The author writes, “Construction is planned in two phases from 2012 to 2016… (initially) designed for 50 passenger planes.” IF (notice the big IF) that timeline is accurate, there will be a global blast of articles and special features, then… an influx of investors. Real estate and development markets will surely be stimulated, and these investors and relocators will have a large raw land inventory to choose from when they do arrive.

As real estate experts, Ben and I are standing in the path of progress and we are experienced “tour guides” in Costa Rica real estate. However, like the majority of people who move to The Zone, we also love our small town community and the postcard paradise that surrounds us.


* Costa Rican Tourism Institute

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