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Where are all the tourists?

Businesses try to lure travelers with discounts as tourism takes a dive.

However, the numbers do not tell the whole story. A lot of Guatemala's visitors come for two or three days, whereas the average length of stay in Costa Rica is 11 days.

Many businesses have moved swiftly to react to the new economic reality.

Recreo Costa Rica, a collection of luxury villas on the northern Pacific coast, offers a “Layoff Layback Promotion,” offering one to two nights free (depending on the length of their reservation) to recently laid-off employees.

“We were finding that some of our friends who were laid off here (in New York City) were given some very healthy severance packages,” said Will Candis, of the New York-based Canis Communications, which represents Recreo Costa Rica. He said thanks to that and other marketing pushes, the villas have remained full.

Castro, of Casa Roland, also said his hotel group has implemented certain feel-good measures, including a bottle of wine with dinner and other complimentary measures depending on the length of stay.

“All this added value is very important so the customer feels content at Casa Roland, and so that, through word of mouth, people help Costa Rica by visiting Costa Rica,” Castro said.

Meanwhile, beyond discounts and “layoff” deals, promoters of Costa Rica’s eco-friendly businesses argue that the country needs to stick to its forte, ecotourism, in order to succeed.

For Ronald Sanabria, vice president of sustainable tourism at the international NGO Rainforest Alliance, the crisis should act as a “reality check” to a global industry that is verging on an explosive tipping point.

“We were growing too fast,” he said. “In a way, I think this came at the right time for many destinations that were just on the verge of becoming non-sustainable [because of] overdevelopment.”

He said he thought companies that have already adopted sustainable practices such as renewable energy — about 100 businesses are certified under the national sustainability program — are reaping the rewards from their investment with lower expenses, and will see further benefits as “the trend toward the more environmentally conscientious consumer continues growing.”

Overall, Sanabria seems optimistic Costa Rica will get over its travelers' cold.

“I think that the tourism industry has the great ability to be extremely resilient to changes,” he said. “This industry has gone through hell. You name it: wars, terrorist attacks, tsunamis … and it recuperates quickly.”

More GlobalPost dispatches on Costa Rica:

The sloths of Costa Rica

Why you won't see Costa Rican shrimp on US menus

The rice and beans war

For more on the global economic crisis:Click here for the full report