Last year’s images of tear gas and roadblocks of burning tires won’t deter record numbers of tourists from visiting Honduras this year, according to the Central American nation’s tourism minister.
The country, noted for Mayan ruins and white sandy beaches, will attract about 2.4 million visitors, almost half from cruise ships, Emilio Silvestri said in a telephone interview. That is up from 2.25 million last year.
The increase would be a testament to Honduras’s ability to overcome its bad press. Riots and looting that followed a contested presidential election in November led the U.S. to call on travelers to delay or cancel trips to Honduras, already famed for its high murder rate. The violent clashes have since calmed and the U.S. travel warning has been lifted.
“January was a tough month, but we are returning to normal,” Silvestri said this week. “We have to recognize that last year we had a very serious problem in terms of the perception of security, but the government has worked hard on improving that situation.”
Most travelers will visit the ruins in Copan, called the Paris of the Maya world, and the crystalline waters of the Bay Islands, a popular site for divers.
Tourism will generate about $860 million for the $22 billion economy this year, Silvestri estimated. That’s an increase on last year’s $800 million.
Despite last year’s riots, the level of violence in Honduras is gradually dropping. Murders have fallen to 40 per 100,000 people from a peak of more than 90 per 100,000 in 2011. While gangs battle over territory in the country’s capital, tourist areas are “very safe” and attacks against tourists are rare, Silvestri said.
The government has worked with U.S. travel promotion agencies to improve the country’s image and hired consulting firms such as McKinsey to identify ways to increase tourism. Convincing people to come isn’t always easy, Silvestri said.
“There’s a lot left to do, but we have the will to keep improving,” he said. “It’s a difficult challenge at times, but we believe that we have a country with a lot of attractions.”