The policy still in force of imposing sanitary restrictions on the crews of commercial flights arriving in Nicaragua continues to slow down the recovery process of the tourist activity in the country, by preventing a system of free competition from encouraging the reduction of the price of air tickets, to attract more visitors, estimate businessmen in the Nicaraguan tourism sector.
“Miguel”, one of these businessmen who spoke with CONFIDENTIAL On the condition of protecting his identity, he considers that the formula to accelerate the recovery of economic activity in the country is to repeat something that has already been done: eliminate the obstacles – all the obstacles – that make it difficult for airlines to return to the country. especially the American ones.
“You have to remove the covid tests and the restrictions imposed, to allow airlines like American Airlines and the others to come, because right now there are only airlines from other countries flying to Nicaragua. These companies charge what they want for a ticket, because there is no competition, and those high prices affect the sales of the entire tourist chain”, he explained.
“Rafael” is responsible for a tourist business in the north of the country. During the closing of Holy Week, the businessman recorded the total occupancy of his 22 available rooms. However, a week later, everything is “fallen, nobody calls you for a lodging”, he compares.
This reality contrasts with the festive data published by the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN), which ensures – in the Monthly Index of Economic Activity (IMAE) for February – that tourism activity grew 20.5% compared to the performance shown in February of 2021.
“Hotel and restaurant services they grew 20.5% (20.0% in the accumulated January-February)”, says the document, without offering any explanation, clarification or argument to support it.
Few tourists, with little money to spend
“Miguel” recognized that, in effect, there is an increase in the activity of the sector, directly linked with the return of some airlines, and this has the immediate effect of increasing the flow of travelers.
The problem is who these tourists are: mostly Nicaraguans who return to see their families after spending almost two years without being able to see them, because the covid-19 pandemic made it impossible (and then inadvisable) to travel anywhere. .
The complaint is due to the consumption capacity (or habits) of national tourists, which are ostensibly lower than those of foreigners, so having the 22 rooms occupied for a weekend, as reported by “Rafael”, does not serve to help balance business accounts.
The employer claims that Holy Week there was a great mobilization of citizens, which the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (Intur) estimated at more than five million people. “Rafael’s” calculations indicate that about 95% of its visitors were nationals, and that only the other 5% were foreigners, and this is reflected in the amount of sales made.
In addition to offering walks through trails and viewpoints, the company also sells organic coffee, honey, and offers restaurant service. Before 2018, with that he could invoice up to 20,000 córdobas on a single holiday, but now “the downturn is noticeable”: on average, he sold between 7,000 and 10,000 córdobas on a Holy Week day.
“It is not a substantial recovery of tourism. You can see that 50 visitors arrive, but you will see how much they bought, how much their entry was in the different businesses and items. That’s where it’s measured. You move, people move, but there is not the purchasing power of consumption that you would like them to have so that your business remains profitable, ”he said.
More competition means better priced tickets
In statements to official media, the co-director of Intur, Anasha Campbell, said that between Saturday, April 9 and Sunday, April 17, hotel occupancy at the national level reached an average of more than 50% of the available rooms, which exceeded expectations. that had been formed.
Beyond those statements that try to be triumphalist, there is a reality like that of “Rafael” who observes that that ‘boom’ of a few days has passed, and now he must continue to survive with the few visitors who arrive, while dodging the payment of taxes and the rise in prices of many of its inputs.
travel agencies, at the other end of the chain are also forced to operate at a fraction of their full capacity. As an example, “Miguel” narrates that the company he directs has improved its conditions in relation to 2021, although he feels that he is still far from returning to 2017, his last successful year.
“Miguel” recounts that in 2021 he was able to rehire all his staff, although there were periods when they had to work for a fraction of their usual salary. As of 2022, he observed: “In January I lost money; in February too, but a little less. In March there were already profits”.
Referring to what happened between travel agencies and some tour operators, he points out that several closed in 2021 because they could not bear the losses. In part because the rise of what he calls “garage agencies” has increased competition for a ‘pie’ that remains very small.
He refers to the initiative shown by agency salespeople who became unemployed and set up their own businesses to survive, as well as others who saw that they could work from home, and hired other people to do the same, despite the fact that As they are not established agencies, the client runs the risk of being stranded, or that they do not fulfill the package that they have purchased and, in that case, “there will be no one to respond to them,” he warned.