In the race to become the next popular tourist hot spot in
Central America (following in Costa Rica's
is working hard for the honors. The country currently attracts less than half
the number of visitors (700,000 last year compared to Costa Rica's 1.6
million), but expects a 10 to 15 percent increase in visitors in 2006,
according to Ricardo Martinez, Honduras Minister of Tourism.
To fuel tourism development, the Honduran government is
developing infrastructure, attracting investment from international hotel
chains, and ramping up marketing and promotion efforts. The country hopes to
capitalize on the recent boom in tourism to Central
America, which logged the highest growth of any region in the
world in 2005 (more than 14 percent), according to the World Tourism
has a lot of tourism potential," says Augusto Huescar, WTO Regional
Representative for the Americas.
"Many travelers are looking for new destinations to discover. Honduras
offers authenticity with its rich culture, history and nature."
Travel wholesaler Diogenes D'Alacio, president of Dalatour
in Cooper City, FL, puts Honduras
among the three top countries in Central America (with Costa Rica and Panama).
"I find the country's best selling point is ecological
travel, because there is so much wildlife," says D'Alacio. "But it is
also an excellent beach and dive destination." D'Alacio has been selling Honduras
packages since 1989, and says that hotels, services and airlift have improved
tremendously since then. Demand is also up; his Honduras business has doubled in
the past two years.
Currently there are more than 900 hotels in the country with
20,453 total rooms, says Martinez,
and more than a third of the rooms have been built within the last five years.
He admits that only about 30 percent of the rooms are at international
two-to-five star standards, but adds that the government is emphasizing quality
for future development. The 10,000 hotel rooms expected to open in the next
five years will more than double the inventory of international-quality
Intrigue at Copan
The Honduran government's long-term plan focuses on three
priority areas for development: the north coast from La Ceiba to Tela, the BayIslands
and Copan, according to Martinez. "Every mayor has a magical
saint or hot water spring he thinks should be promoted, but we must first focus
on areas with primary attractions," he says.
On the north coast, the government has committed $40 million
to build a new highway from Progresso to Tela, and another $15 million in
infrastructure to support the Tela Bay Development on 770 acres of farmland
near the National Park at Punta Sal, explains Martinez. The development will be called LosMicosBeach and Golf Resort,
and will eventually feature four or five hotels, a golf course developed by a
top course designer, 250 condominiums, two beach clubs and commercial shops.
Letters of intent have been registered from Hyatt and Westin resort chains for
hotel construction, he adds, with a planned opening at the end of 2008. Each
hotel will cost $25 to $30 million.
In the BayIslands, Roatan is targeted for further development,
and the government will spend $13 million on environmental projects to protect
healthy eco-systems and reefs, according to Martinez. "Most of the island is green
and unpopulated," he says, adding that there are only 1,200 hotel rooms
available. But 400 new rooms are under construction, and more are slated. Also
under construction is a $4 million cruise ship terminal, planned for completion
by the end of 2007. A new high-speed ferry to the mainland launched in
September, cutting cruise time to just one hour from Roatan to La Ceiba.
better access roads and a new airport near the archeological site are planned.
But despite development efforts, travel wholesaler Richard
Benson, president of Mac's Travel Pacs in Stuart,
FL, says he thinks awareness is
one of the country's biggest challenges. "Honduras is one of the more
invisible countries to the American public," says Benson. "It doesn't
have a bad reputation; people just don't know much about it."
Mario Aguirre, U.S.
representative for the Honduras Tourism Board based in Miami, says that image development takes time.
"Honduras is known for
diving and the Mayan ruins at Copan,
but we have been working hard to establish the diversity of the
destination," he says. Campaigns promote nature, history and Caribbean beaches/diving with the "One Small
Country, Three Wide Worlds" slogan. Aguirre adds that the Tourism Board is
planning educational seminars at travel agencies across the U.S. in 2007,
and is hoping to run agent fam trips with airline support.
Tourism Board: 800-410-9608, 305-461-0600, www.letsgohonduras.com