Honduras tourism might benefit from coup in the long run


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (eTN) – It has been over two months since democratically elected Honduras president, Manuel Zelaya, was taken from his bed at dawn and forced into exile to Costa Rica in his pajamas by a military coup.

Since then, most nations in the world have condemned the ouster and demanded President Zelaya’s return to power. This includes the United States, which, in an effort to pressure the coup leaders to reinstate Zelaya, has cancelled the visas of some of the De facto regime members. It has also ordered its embassy to cease the issuing of new visas to all Honduran citizens and has cut some US$ 35 million in military aid.

A decision by the US State Department as to whether the ouster was a military coup is still pending and should result in additional aid cuts totaling US$135 million.

It is clear that the Honduran economy is starting to hurt due to the isolation imposed on the country, the lack of flow of international financial resources and the world economic crisis.

Once known as a banana republic, the production and exporting of the tropical fruit was affected by Hurricane Mitch that hit the Central American nation in 1998, thus forcing Honduras to focus its efforts in the production and the exporting of coffee, the apparel industry and more recently in tourism.

Honduras sought an increase in US visitors earlier this year as a consequence of the bad economy, many Americans could no longer afford to travel to Europe or the Far East and have looked at Central America as a closer and affordable alternative. With little or almost no budget to promote itself as a vacation spot, Honduras’s tourist attractions have been kept a secret for a long time.

“We do have a lot to offer, white sandy beaches, our colonial history, famous Mayan ruins, as well as a vast number of national parks and protected areas,” said Salvador Sanchez, a local tour guide that has been showing visitors around for over 15 years. “All reservations were cancelled after the coup, as most people are afraid of coming for what they hear on the news, we are really going through some tough times.”

Eduardo Rivera, who runs a tour company in San Pedro Sula, located 140 miles away from the capital city Tegucigalpa, said, “Tourism is a noble industry, however, it is also very delicate as it can easily be affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes or other things such as the H1N1 pandemic or the political crisis that we are currently living in.”

Although some street riots and violent demonstrations took place in Tegucigalpa earlier last month, the situation in the capital appears to be in tense calm now a days, “Things are back to normal at most tourist spots and business as usual are reported, we need to spread the word around and let people know that it is perfectly safe to come,” Rivera mentioned.

In an aggressive move, a local tour company has launched an all-Inclusive week-long package for less than US$800.00 per person hoping to reactivate the flow of tourists. “We are very optimistic about this special deal as it represents over 50 percent of savings for those that join in, this is a land only package and the participants should arrange their own air, they can use their frequent flyer miles with the airline of their choice or take advantage of great airfares that are currently being offered,” said Vicky Aguilar, a representative for explorehonduras.com, an online Honduran travel outlet. “Once this crisis is over, we are certain that hundreds of thousands of visitors will be pouring.”

Another considerable source of income for the poor nation is the large amounts of remittances that Honduran expatriates send back to their families from the US and other countries that accounted for over US$2 billion in 2008.

Ironically, many people around the world have never heard of Honduras before the June 28th coup. The political crisis has sparked the attention and curiosity of potential travelers. With an extension of about 66,000 square miles of mountainous territory, Honduras tourist activity revolves around two major highlights–the Mayan ruins of Copan, located in the eastern most tip of the country close to the Guatemalan border which are visited by thousands of archaeology enthusiasts year round and the Bay Islands in the Caribbean, a world class scuba dive destination that boasts the second largest barrier reef in the world, Roatan. One of the islands in this archipelago is now also a popular port of call for major cruise liners like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Also, several US carriers, such as Delta, American Airlines and Continental, offer daily service to three international airports in Honduras.

On the Net:
Honduras Institute of Tourism: www.letsgohonduras.com
Explore Honduras Tour Operator: www.explorehonduras.com