Nicaragua is on track to record double-digit growth in tourism visits this year, considerably higher than the original 6.5% growth projected at the beginning of the year, according to Tourism Minister Mario Salinas.
“We registered 11.4% growth between January and October of this year. While we don’t yet have the final numbers for November and December, we are in high-season months so it is reasonable to expect we could finish with at least 10% growth,” Salinas told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
Tourism revenue is also up 12.5% through September, according to Salinas. So more tourists are visiting Nicaragua and spending more money while they are here.
The tourism minister says Nicaragua’s steady tourism growth is the result of continued work to build and promote the country as a safe tourism destination.
Salinas says Nicaragua’s tourism board (INTUR) will continue to focus its efforts on attracting more tourists from the United States and Canada, because those are the biggest markets with the easiest access to Nicaragua. Still, Central America remains the most important market, representing six of every 10 tourists who visit here, Salinas says.
Following the loss of the short-lived Blue Panorama flight this year, Salinas says a goal for INTUR is to attract more connecting flights in 2013. He says the government is already in communication with one air carrier that is interested in expanding its flights here next year, but wouldn’t mention which one.
If Nicaragua is able to maintain its double-digit tourism growth for 2012, it will be neck and neck with Panama for the fastest-growing market in Central America. Panama’s tourism industry is expected to grow around 10% or more this year. Costa Rica, which reported 7.4% growth during the first half of the year, is now—as of October—reporting a slight drop in its overall hotel occupancy for the year, dipping from 42% in October 2011 to 38% in October 2012.
Nicaragua was visited by 1,040,000 tourists in 2011 and generated nearly $390 million in tourism revenue. A 10% growth rate this year would put Nicaragua slightly above 1.1 million tourists mark—about half the amount of tourists who visit Costa Rica each year.