Tourism Minister Mario Salinas is confident that the recent dust-up over the U.S. government’s cancelation of bilateral aid to the Sandinista government will not have any negative repercussions on Nicaragua’s tourism sector.
“I think that the tourism sector has developed its own motor and has a life of its own,” Salinas told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview today.
Salinas said the political tensions caused by the recent suspension of the U.S. transparency waiver and the subsequent saber-rattling by President Daniel Ortega is nothing more than “political situations that happen in every country.”
“Nicaragua has to make its position and point of view known, which President Ortega has done correctly,” Salinas said. “But in terms of Nicaragua’s tourism flow from the United States and the rest of the world, we don’t think this will affect anything.”
So far this year, Nicaragua’s budding tourism sector has continued to grow, reporting an 11.8% increase in tourism arrivals during the first quarter of 2012. Salinas says the Nicaragua Tourism Board (INTUR) projects tourism will grow 6.5% this year. Unofficially, however, the minister says those projections are probably conservative, given the double-digit growth in the first quarter.
Nicaragua’s tourism sector continues to be fueled primarily by Central American tourists, who represent around 62% of the market, followed by visitors from the United States and Europe.
“The increase we are seeing in tourism is related to the promotion we are doing in the Americas and in Europe. And also due to the efforts we have made in past years to position Nicaragua internationally and project an image of what Nicaragua really is today—a country with great attractions and a high level of security for tourists,” Salinas says.
Two international events in July will give an additional boost to Nicaragua tourism, Salinas said.
On July 11, Nicaragua will receive its inaugural flight from Italian air carrier Blue Panorama. The once-a-week flight (Rome-Havana-Managua-Rome) will arrive in and depart from Augusto C. Sandino International Airport every Wednesday.
The roundtrip flight from Managua to Rome costs around $1,200, according to Blue Panorama’s online booking engine.
Though infrequent, the Blue Panorama flight will be the first direct connection between Managua and Europe.
“Undoubtedly, this is a great step forward for us,” Salinas says. “This will allow us to do more promotion in Europe, especially in Italy. This will offer Italian tourists a much easier and more comfortable way to get to Nicaragua. This was always a handicap for us before.”
Nicaragua tourism will also “catch a break” from politics by hosting the World Masters Surfing Championship on Playa Colorado July 14-22.
“This will have an extraordinary impact for Nicaragua,” Salinas says. “The event is going to be transmitted via Internet to 118 countries and there will be international surfing delegations from 24 countries participating. This undoubtedly will put us on the world surf map.”
Luckily, the growing buzz over Nicaragua’s tourism industry is starting to drown out some of the country’s incessant political jabber, which, with time, seems increasingly like background noise.