Central America in 2019: different strategies, the same objective

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Central America in 2019: different strategies, the same objective
Wed September 25, 2019

Some bet to position themselves in new segments, others to develop tourism product for their closest neighbors


Tourism is one of the main links that moves the economy in Central America. This activity represents an average of 5% of the Gross Domestic Product in the region.

Around 18 million tourists visit it a year which represents about $ 20 billion in foreign exchange.

In the race to gain prominence in this industry each of the countries advances in different ways. El Salvador, for example, is developing various tourism infrastructure projects, committed to the arrival of more cruise ships, as well as the positioning of the country as an adventure destination especially for surfing.

In the last year, Honduras invested $ 350 million to build tourist works such as the cruise ship dock in Roatán and a hotel in San Pedro Sula, with the aim of increasing supply and improving its tourism product.

Costa Rica, for its part, with a strong reputation as an ecotourism destination, now directs its gaze to project itself as a congress and convention destination, generating a close relationship between the public and private sectors to incentivize projects that promote productive chains.

Panama, for its part, focuses its actions towards a Sustainable Tourism Development Plan that contemplated, for example, the creation of the Chiriquí coffee circuit. As well as its projection as the ideal destination for doing business.

While Guatemala is committed to consolidate itself as a cultural destination in a market dominated by small and medium enterprises; seeks to strengthen sustainable tourism and empower communities, through a National Community Tourism Network, ensure in the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (INGUAT)

"The advantage of Guatemala is that our peoples are full of cultural expressions generated by that living culture and we have a great biodiversity, natural wealth," said Jorge Mario Chajón, director of INGUAT.

Different realities

The reality of tourism in Central America is different in each of its countries, as well as the profile of those who visit it. Some of the destinations focus their strategies on the regional market, others for the international one.

In El Salvador, 58% of visitors who entered the country come from Central America, while in Guatemala it was 50% in the last year, of which the vast majority are Salvadorans.

According to INGUAT, in this 2019, six out of 10 visitors come from Central America, especially from El Salvador, followed by the United States and Honduras. The land borders meant the largest flow of inbound tourism, since of every 10 visitors, six did so by this route. The aerial represented 30%.

With respect to international tourism, El Salvador managed to attract 35% of American tourism seduced by its country brand: “El Salvador great as its people”.

Considering that El Salvador has the highest airport costs in Latin America, the national flag agreements with their respective incentives in 2018-19, with an ultra-low cost airline, will have an impact on the growth of tourism of Salvadorans residing in the United States and in that of the Americans, democratizing aviation, significantly reducing the price of air tickets.

In Costa Rica, more than half of the tourists who enter are North American and Central American tourism was 23%. For the first half of 2019, the number of tourists from Canada, the United States and Mexico, amounted to 959,000, which is equivalent to an increase of 5%. In the case of visitors from Central American countries, the number of tourists totaled 365,000.

With the exception of El Salvador and Guatemala, Central America has failed to strengthen its intra-regional tourism, what currently exists are business trips.
Honduras, for its part, is making efforts to develop tourism product aimed at interregional tourism mainly for holiday seasons, such as Augustinian holidays. Currently, Honduras is the country in the region that received fewer tourists in the last year with only 1% growth over the previous period.

Guatemala has also been favored with its cruise tourism, which in the last year was the largest in history with 122 berths, as well as the establishment of three new airlines, thereby increasing air frequencies.

In El Salvador, the growth of tourism is also due to dental services, outpatient surgeries, stem cell treatments, bariatric surgeries. Currently 16 Salvadoran companies belong to the Medical Tourism Network and are waiting to enter at least six more companies.

The dynamism of tourism in Panama is based on an attractive business environment and a privileged geographical position, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum. In addition, it has an important connectivity system. There are also cruises and heavy investments in new hotels.

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