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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 1:09 AM 

Canadians “important” to El Salvador

Canadians “important” to El Salvador
El Salvador's Minister of Tourism, José Napoleón Duarte Durán (left), meets with U.S. and Canadian journalists

El Salvador's Minister of Tourism, José Napoleón Duarte Durán, sat down last week with a group of U.S. and Canadian journalists, including PAX, last week to discuss the country’s growing initiatives to attract North American visitors. It was part of a FAM trip to San Salvador, which showcased El Salvador’s Travel Market trade show, and the country’s growing tourism infrastructure. The discussion ranged from safety, to expanding air routes, to a multimillion dollar airport overhaul.

With the 25th anniversary of the end of the civil war coming up in January 2017, the minister said there will be many celebrations, but one highlight will be "a guerilla route. It's two days on mules, but it's a marvelous tour... People who survived the war are taking care of the route and giving the tour.” It’s one of “18 tourist routes,” he said, which included an archeological route, a sun and beach route (the country has 300 kilometres of beach), and one that focuses on coffee production. “People think that because El Salvador went through a civil war that it’s not safe... We have gangs, like anywhere, but gang members don't go where tourists go.”

In the capital of San Salvador, he says that 35 per cent of their hotels are five-star, they are working with “the most important chains” (Sheraton, Crowne Plaza etc.), and they have seven new hotels opening. Perhaps the most exciting hotel news for nature lovers is an upcoming revamp of the guest houses in Cerro Verde National Park, “the only place in the country with pure oxygen,” where guests can wake up “surrounded by the 8th Wonder of the World.” (The Santa Ana Volcano and Lake Coatepeque were the runner up in a vote held by the travel site VirtualTourist to name an 8th Wonder). And surfers will be happy to hear that there are plans for more hotels along the coast in the next two to five years.

He also had “good news” about the airport. They’ve already invested millions of dollars to remodel it, upgrading the floors and bathrooms, the sales system, and are planning to invest an additional $300 million. The focus for this second phase “is to build 10 more hangars for more airlines.” That will take about five years, and is critical to bringing in more tourists. “I think it will be the most important airport in Latin America.” They could also receive smaller planes from Central America and the Caribbean at their airport closer to the city.

Another untapped market that they are looking to expand is cruise ships. As part of the plan to make the port “cruise ready,” he said they’ve received visits from Princess Cruises’ inspector, they’ve certified 30 people to work with receiving ships, and they are prepared to receive 12 cruise ships in the coming year.

He then shared specific strategies for the North American market, which he said “is very noble.” They’ll be increasing their promotions on social media and conventional outlets like CNN and the New York Times. They also held international surf competitions, which were watched “by millions of people.”

As far as visitor from Canada goes, Duarte Durán want more to visit El Salvador. “Canada is important to me,” he emphasized. “They are special. Canadians like to go to the Caribbean and dance.”

“At most,” Duarte Durán continued, “we’ve had 31,000 Canadians in a year.” He wants to get that number up to 100,000. He admitted that a big problem was connectivity. Avianca has direct flights from Toronto, and AirTransat is starting direct flights from Montreal on Dec. 22nd, but that doesn’t come close to somewhere like Cuba. “We have to do a better job,” he said, and over the next two years he said they “have to invest a lot.”

But he said the private sector also had a part to play. “You are going to have to sell, and we are going to have to bring the airplanes.”