Tourism in Nicaragua does not lift its head. In 2021, the end of the year and Christmas, Easter and national holidays gave a slight respite to the sector that was doubly hit by the socio-political crisis and the covid-19 pandemic. Expectations in early 2022 are focused on staying afloat while restrictions due to the coronavirus, air connectivity and the country’s socio-political situation stabilize, with the hope that at some point the growth of 2017 will resume, when the sector generated 840.5 million dollars, according to the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN).
For “Mauricio”, responsible for a tourist business, the sector is going through a period of “recovery and survival”. The income they receive is drained in the maintenance and expenses of hotels, and they still do not generate the expected profits to pay off the debts. “Mauricio” estimates that on average the occupancy level in 2021 was a little over 20%, which is still well below “the health of any hotel, which is more or less 50%,” he said.
He is confident that in 2022 the sector will face a more encouraging outlook, although he does not lose sight of the uncertainty generated by covid-19. Travel restrictions, as is happening right now with the appearance of the omicron, is a key element in the recovery of tourism. “Mauricio” assures that several reservations they had for January fell, as a result of the health crisis and the new variant. His hope is that this new wave of infections will be lighter than the previous ones.
Since 2018, when the social outbreak was crushed with repression, the economy, including tourism, began to suffer. Growth expectations in various sectors collapsed. Tourism generated at the end of that year, revenues of 544.3 million dollars and then continued to decline. In 2019 they reached 515.4 million dollars and in 2020, with the appearance of the covid, the fall was resounding: 198.5 million dollars, 316.8 million less than that registered in 2019, according to data from the BCN.
Three tourism sources consulted by CONFIDENTIAL from the north, the Pacific and the south of the country agree that there is still a long way to go to return to the levels of 2017. “Fabio” works in a reserve in the north of the country, an attractive destination for tourists. Until before 2018, 40% of the tourists they received were foreigners and the rest, nationals. “I do not know how many years will pass for tourism to return to do as before 2018. It is never, never the same,” he said.
It ensures that hotel occupancy closed very low in 2021, around 40% per year. Although that figure is not the desired one, it represents an advance compared to previous months, in which up to 30 days went by without guests.
National tourism predominates
“Mauricio” assures that they have survived with national tourism, since the arrival of foreigners has not been completely restored. Another source who requested that his identity be omitted, assured that “foreign tourism is not arriving in Nicaragua as it previously did.”
It considers that the main obstacles consist of the “lack of flights” and the health measures imposed by the Government. “As long as this does not improve, there will be no volume of tourists that allows profitability in tourist areas,” he said. National tourism predominates and to a lesser extent, Costa Ricans who arrive on vacations or weekends.
“I do not think that the political situation itself is a problem, especially if the aforementioned, lack of flights and absurd regulations … I think it is very difficult to reach the levels of 2017. It will take time to react. But without flights and with absurd measures it is impossible. If it changed, there would be prospects for improvement, ”said the source.
Nicaragua has reactivated its air connection little by little, after, due to sanitary restrictions in other countries, the Augusto C. Sandino international airport, in Managua, was left without operating in 2020. The imposition of biosafety regulations due to covid-19 delayed that the airlines returned to the country, while they did so with the rest of Central American countries, where the measures were more lax.
To date, three US companies (American Airlines, United Airlines and Spirit Airlines) have suspended their flights to Nicaragua. For this reason, the main demand from tourism sources is that there be facilities for more international flights, which represent the arrival of more foreign tourists.
In 2020, the year of the pandemic, 383,979 foreigners arrived in the country, of these, 249 178 came from Central American countries and 83 528 from North America.
Silence in the tourism sector
On October 27, the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur) reported that its representative for more than a decade, Lucy Valenti, had resigned. His voice questioned the government’s measures that did not encourage the growth of the tourism sector, as happened with the airlines.
Valenti pointed out that as long as air connections were not restored as before the pandemic, it was very difficult for the sector to take off. CONFIDENTIAL He tried to communicate with the current president of the chamber, Carlos W. Schütze, but did not return messages or calls.
Likewise, the sources who agreed to speak did so under anonymity for fear of reprisals against their businesses or against themselves. For its part, the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (Intur) has not yet shared the numbers of visits to tourist centers during the December holidays.