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Tourism investment in El Salvador rebounds

by | Mar 2, 2024

The experience of being a tourist in El Salvador and traveling from end to end to see the country’s beauties is reborn after the improvement of the security situation, say sector experts. Tourism investment in El Salvador has rebounded.

The country has incredible beaches, volcanoes, lakes with turquoise waters, and Mayan pyramids surrounded by lush vegetation. El Salvador offers all of this to travelers. But fear of gang violence, which plagued the country for three decades, long held back the potential for tourism investment in El Salvador. Added to this difficult situation was the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

However, tourism investment in El Salvador is experiencing a notable rebound. In 2022, 2.5 million tourists entered El Salvador, thus recovering 96% of pre-pandemic volume, according to the Salvadoran Tourism Corporation (CORSATUR) figures.

Tourism figures have been rising since 2019

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) places El Salvador in fourth place worldwide in 2023 and first in Latin America in terms of the increase in international visitors compared to 2019. El Salvador has surpassed Colombia and the Dominican Republic. As of November of that year, some three million people entered the country, a 27% growth compared to 2019.

The measures to improve security taken by the Nayib government Bukele favor the sector, according to experts from San Salvador. “Security is a relevant factor to encourage national and international tourism in El Salvador,” says Silvia Orozco, executive director of the Salvadoran Chamber of Tourism (CASATUR). “This is reflected in the figures up to December 2023, where El Salvador exceeded the number of international visitors by almost 30 percent compared to 2019, the reference year for the sector,” she adds. The economic contribution of tourism is US$3.6 billion, and it is the second sector that contributes the most to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after remittances, with 11.3% in the third quarter of 2023.

What other measures by Bukele influence this rebound in tourism investment in El Salvador? “We consider that it is the first time that a Salvadoran government is strategically betting on this area, with strong investments and promotion,” notes Silvia Orozco.

State, private, and international investments encourage tourism investment in El Salvador

These growth figures are due “to all the new tourism activities implemented by the current government, which has created a new image of an emerging destination,” Ingrid García, sales manager of the Tour Bus operator, asserts. El Salvador: In 2023, tourists arrived mainly from the US (43%), Guatemala (23%) and Honduras (15%). 56% arrived by plane and 44% by land, remaining two to three weeks in the country, reports the Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador (MINTUR). “Since 2022, a change has been noticeable, which we have seen in rural areas, in towns where people now dare to put a cafe or a small business. There is still a lack of investment in some places. Still, the beginnings have given outstanding results,” highlights García. Garcia also points out that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has helped invest in roads and access to tourist areas “to speed up connectivity.”

Raúl Castro, the Salvadoran Association of Tourism Operators and Wholesalers president, agrees with this. His organization that promotes tourism investment in El Salvador brings together private companies with more than five years in the business: “There are investments by private companies and international organizations, as well as investments from the State, “he explains.

Controlling the violence of criminal gangs has been the decisive element. “The government has carried out different actions to make El Salvador visible worldwide. We as citizens feel that the security issue is practically resolved, and that also makes the country more attractive internationally,” says the executive director of CASATUR. The situation of insecurity and violence, he assures, “has changed in the last two years.”

Raúl Castro emphasizes in this regard that the government’s security strategy “has been essential for international tourism in the European, American, and Canadian markets. “The Bukele phenomenon has helped to improve the positioning of tourism investment in El Salvador, to be taken more into account than before, for example, at international tourism fairs.”

Ideal waves for surfers, adventure tourism, and also relaxation

The figures reveal that crime is decreasing in the Central American country. In 2018, more than 50 intentional homicides were committed there per 100,000 people. In 2019, there were (in rounded figures) 35; in 2020, 21; in 2021, 18, according to the UN Infosegura Program, reaching almost 8 in 2022.

The Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador’s plan is also bearing fruit. That portfolio and other institutions responsible for the area carry out joint measures based on the National Tourism Plan 2030. This plan contemplates “the preservation of the socio-cultural and natural heritage of the nation, the protection of biodiversity in the process of the phenomenon of tourism,” among other things. This is “a new vision for the tourism sector,” according to that ministry.

One of the focuses of the plan is the development of the Pacific coastal area, for example, with international surfing tournaments. In 2020, the country was the chosen venue for the World Cup Surfing Games.

But El Salvador is not only a paradise for surfers. It is also an excellent destination for those seeking adventure or relaxation. “Leisure tourism not only seeks the perfect wave, but also the cultural and historical experience, the experiential of nature,” says Raúl Castro. “All that natural wealth, short distances and biodiversity, in a small territorial area, creates an environment within which “people can live several experiences in a single country, in a short time.”

In conclusion, the resurgence of tourism investment in El Salvador is a testament to the transformative impact of concerted efforts in bolstering security and promoting the country’s diverse attractions. With a remarkable decrease in crime rates and strategic initiatives by the government, including robust investments and promotion, El Salvador has reclaimed its position as an emerging destination on the global tourism map. From its stunning beaches and volcanoes to its rich cultural heritage, the country offers many experiences for travelers seeking adventure, relaxation, and exploration. As El Salvador continues to harness its natural and cultural assets while prioritizing sustainable development, it is poised to thrive as a premier destination, welcoming visitors from around the world to discover its wonders.

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