COSTA RICA, a tiny country nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, has become a highly regarded destination for meetings and incentive travel programs. Unless you have been there, you might ask, “Why Costa Rica?”

Besides all of the obvious reasons contributing to the success of an event — the beauty of a country, the warmth of the people, the quality of the product, the delivery of service, the air access, the dollar value, and safety and security issues — Costa Rica delivers the “wow” factor. Our group of 10 industry professionals and their guests discovered Costa Rica's wow factor from September 12 to 16, thanks to the teamwork of the Costa Rica Association of Incentives and Congresses (incentcr@racsa.co.cr).

Many of the destination management companies working in Costa Rica started their businesses during the boom years of ecotourism, and they have been extremely successful moving into the incentive travel market. Our participants learned that there are many event options for an incentive trip to Costa Rica.

The DMC company TAM hosted a trip to the beautiful Doka Estate coffee plantation, a wonderful way to see the beauty of the mountains and 400,000 acres of coffee (much of which is purchased by Starbucks). An animated tour by two young Costa Rican actors made the experience authentic and memorable.

VESA tours treated our group to an adventure-filled day in the rain forest as we took part in the exciting “canopy tour,” which is definitely not for the timid. We were strapped into harnesses and hooked onto cables high in the rain forest as we glided from treetop to treetop like monkeys!

A day of natural beauty was offered by Travel Excellence DMC at La Paz waterfalls and butterfly forest, complete with rain ponchos to keep us dry as we viewed the magnificent waterfalls.

Other DMCs involved in the program included Swiss Travel, one of the most well-known operators and a very professional bunch. Additionally, Premio Incentives worked to get us to the airport on time to make our flights home.

Costa Rica's hotel industry offers the very best in accommodations and services for incentives and meetings. Our hosts included The Real Inter-Continental, San José; The Costa Rica Marriott, San José; Meliá Playa Conchal, Guanacaste, on the north Pacific coast; Los Sueños Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort, two hours from San José on the central Pacific coast; Meliá Cariari, San José; and The Hotel Herradura Golf Resort and Conference Center. All offered elaborate cuisine and themed settings showcasing the destination and its capability to host even the most demanding incentive travel groups.

Maria DeTheodore, CGI Sales, Philadelphia, was so impressed with her experience in Costa Rica that she booked the CIGNA Group Insurance June 2003 President's Club incentive trip there. The CIGNA qualifiers will be staying at the Los Sueños Marriott.

Air access is easy to San José from the United States via American Airlines and Continental as well as other scheduled carriers. New air service on Delta from Atlanta into Liberia International Airport in the north Pacific coast region is planned for December. Meliá Playa Conchal (soon to be all-inclusive) and a new Four Seasons Resort development will directly benefit from this new airlift.