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The Big Two of tourism

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Tourism in Central America has shown steady growth over the last two years following the sharp drop in 2009 caused by the world economic crisis. But not everything remains the same for the industry.

Costa Rica has been the undisputed king of Central American tourism, but Panama is now challenging its crown. Costa Rica is still winning in terms of numbers, but Panama is advancing rapidly in growth.

Statistics (in Spanish, but the numbers are understandable) from the Central American Tourism Council show a very marked trend. Six years ago, Costa Rica had twice as many tourist arrivals as Panama. This year Costa Rica is expecting 2.2 million arrivals, while Panama is predicting two million.

In both countries, hotel construction is taking giant steps; in Costa Rica alone so far this year it has grown threefold by comparison with the same period of 2010.

Beyond these two countries the rest of the region has shown disappointing results. The biggest problem for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is the high level of violence, though some projects --such as Bahía de Tela in Honduras-- have responded by developing secure enclaves.

Though far from threatening the two tourism leaders in the region, Nicaragua has been making modest improvements in a country which has great potential. And it does have interesting projects, such as the marinas being constructed by Spanish investors on the Atlantic Coast (link in Spanish), an area of great poverty.