High Airfares Impede the Consolidation of Tourism in Central America

Central America, an isthmus rich in nature and cultural heritage from Guatemala to Panama, not yet consolidated as a single tourist destination because of limits such as the high cost of its domestic air transport.

This region offers, in just over half a million square kilometers, a varied world ranging from volcanoes, tropical islands, colonial architecture, parks, lakes or archaeological up to food, music and dancing.

The efforts of each country to attract more tourists have beared fruits, as it shows that between 2002 and 2012 foreign exchange from tourism tripled, according to the Central American Tourism Integration Secretariat (SITCA).

The image of Central America as a single destination has succeeded placing itself in a sector of the international tourism market, but when it come to providing plans to travel there the difficulties arise, admit authorities of the region.

"Connectivity (by air) is actually one of the challenges that limit the development of intra-regional tourism," admitted SITCA holder, Nicaraguan Anasha Campbell.

The SITCA sector is one of the organs of the Central American Integration System (SICA), located in San Salvador and consisting of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

With support of the Spanish Cooperation, Central America maintained for more than 10 years in Madrid the Central America Tourism Agency (CATA), public nature - private in connection with managing the promotion strategy, marketing, advertising and public relations of this region in Europe.

Thanks to the work of CATA and joint participation in the most important tourism fairs in the world, Central America has positioned well as a multi-destination tourism in some markets like the Spanish.

"But yet there is no offer of packages that inclusive" several locations in the region." This means, to visit two or three countries in Central America you have to pay 2,500 euros ($ 3,450 ) that include ticket, accommodation, internal transport," Campbell mentioned as an example.

Currently a ticket back and forth between some Central American countries typically costs between 500 and 700 dollars, depending on the type of occupancy on flights of just 30 to 40 minutes.

SITCA secretary added that this is a problem "complex, going beyond" the powers of the national or regional tourism bodies, "because other actors come into play" such as the transport authorities and civil aviation.

Among other factors affecting the high tariffs, Campbell cited "fiscal policies, which are present in all of these countries and tariffs, which charge the airlines."

But the problem "is already addressed" with the various authorities of the countries and the region, he said.

Campbell regretted that it gets more difficult to take better advantage of situations concerning Central America as "the Nicaraguan (tourist) offer is complementary to that of Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican to that of Panama."

He stressed that, although each country has its offer, "Central America does not see itself as competitors," but other subregions such as the Caribbean.

"There is a clear vision to sell ourselves as a multidestination Central America, several efforts have been made and are still working on it," he said.

But he acknowledged that "much work remains" in both Central America itself and in the work to attract more tourists from Asia, Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean.

Not only air connectivity problems arise tariffs but also the lack of direct flights from Europe to certain countries, such as Nicaragua, but they may be supplemented by connections from Costa Rica or Panama, he suggested.

In an imaginary route, an agile - and cheap - air connectivity could allow that only in a few days a tourist could be able to get to know the Panama Canal, the Poas volcano in Costa Rica, have a coach drive in Granada (Nicaragua), surf the Pacific El Salvador, visit the Mayan ruins of Copan (Honduras), scroll colonial streets in Antigua (Guatemala) and finally dive in the Caribbean in Belize.

The Costa Rica News