By Martin Mowforth
Article in ENCA 74, November 2018
Despite the very best efforts of Anasha Campbell, Co-Director of Nicaragua’s Tourism Institute (INTUR), it is clear that the rising star of the Nicaraguan economy – tourism – has been dealt a huge blow by the crisis caused by the anti-government protests since April this year. In August the Tortilla Con Sal blog published an interview with Campbell in which she failed to make even one explicit reference to the protests or their effects on the country’s tourism industry.
It is of course understandable that the INTUR and its officers should try to amplify their claims of an attractive and rapidly expanding industry – that’s precisely what it was before the troubles began in April. In fact it had already gained an enviable reputation and was fast overtaking all other sources of foreign income in the country. But it was rather disingenuous to try to hide the devastating effects of the crisis on the industry – although, to be fair, what the blog published was probably only a small proportion of the whole interview.
By the end of August most of the road blocks or barricades had been dismantled and movement around the country was once again possible. (Incidentally, that did not indicate that the troubles had come to an end.) Associated Press reported that the tourism sector had “become Nicaragua’s top source of foreign currency in the past two years,” but had shed as many as 70,000 jobs as a result of the protests. Revenue at hotels and restaurants fell by 45 per cent in June compared to 2017, according to Nicaragua’s Central Bank, whilst construction fell by 35 per cent and retail 27 per cent.
El Economista reported that the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur) had estimated a $400 million loss in tourism compared with 2017. Canatur’s study calculated that 83 per cent of tourism companies had reduced their services by at least 30 per cent, and that since the start of the protests more than 60,000 people had been laid off in the tourism sector along with 16,000 reduced to part-time work.
Within three months of the start of the protests, the city of León’s most up-market hotel, El Convento, had been forced to close for lack of guests. Similarly in La Concha, the Spanish School and Eco-Hotel La Mariposa (http://mariposaspanishschool.com/) also had to close, although it is good news to hear that they have now re-opened for bookings. Towards the end of August, the first cruise ship to call for three months docked off San Juan del Sur. Around the same time, Nicaraguan tourism businesses asked foreign governments to change their travel advisories which strongly advised travellers not to visit Nicaragua.
There may be the initial signs of recovery, but these are small and the country now has a long way to go to reach the dizzy heights of the previous season. More importantly for many people who lost their jobs in tourism during the crisis, there may be some small hope that a recovery of the industry will create anew their jobs. But it is highly unlikely that the recovery will be rapid – a reputation will not be rebuilt overnight; although as we have seen, it can be lost overnight.
- Alliance for Global Justice (22 August 2018), NicaNotes – Briefs: ‘Cruise ship ‘Crystal Symphony’ arrives in San Juan del Sur’ and ‘Tourism businesses ask foreign government to lift travel alerts’.
- Associated Press (11 September 2018), ‘Months of deadly unrest devastate Nicaragua’s economy’
- El Economista (20 September 2018), ‘Nicaragua dejará de percibir $400 millones en turismo por crisis’.
- La Mariposa (September 2018), ‘Closure of La Mariposa’, La Mariposa e-list communication.
- La Mariposa (4 October 2018), ‘We are taking a risk, but let’s make it work for everyone – we are now open’, La Mariposa e-list communication.
- teleSur (25 August 2018), ‘Tourism, Democracy and Development in Nicaragua’, an interview by Tortilla Con Sal with Anasha Campbell, co-director of Nicaragua’s Tourism Institute.
- United States Department of State (12 September 2018), Travel Advisory for Nicaragua.