The seven small countries of Central America are still experiencing high economic growth. According to Carolina Briones, director general of the Central America Tourism Agency (CATA) speaking at ITB Berlin, in 2015 a total of 10.275 million visitors – an increase of 7.1 per cent – came to explore the beaches, diving areas, Maya ruins, volcanoes and colonial-era cities of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Visitors spent 11.2 million dollars, nearly one million dollars more than in 2014.
CATA is marketing these countries as a multiple destination, and Europe is among the main source markets. Spain tops the list, followed by Germany and the UK. Costa Rica is still the most popular of the ’seven dwarfs’.
The head of CATA emphasises that the region’s authorities have had successes in the fight against violence and crime. “Foreign guests value the tourist police.“ They go on bicycle patrols, for example in the old town of Panama City, and if requested accompany tourists on volcano tours in Guatemala.
Together, these small countries offer “great diversity, an authentic experience, a wealth of culture and natural attractions as well as activities within a small area between two oceans", says Andreas M. Gross, chair of the Latin America working group. “This is a tropical zone through and through, with a functioning infrastructure and much improved flight connections." Gross recommends exploring Central America by taking the Panamericana and travelling to the small coastal state of Belize in the north.
“Every year, ITB Berlin brings new customers and new business", says Rolf Baumgartner, president of the tour operator Mesoamerica Travel S.A. in Honduras. He is delighted “that the cruise market is once gaining ground in Honduras." Among the most popular attractions for passengers are excursions to the Maya site of Copán with its temples, ruins and famous museums.
Germany is Nicaragua’s biggest source market. According to Immanuel Zerger, general manager of Solentiname Tours in Managua, “Germans adore Nicaragua. Apart from enjoying rising tourist numbers the country is also twinned with 30 towns in Germany." German tourists frequently undertake organised tours of Nicaragua that last up to 20 days.