Honduras: needing tourism more than ever

Honduras protests in capital city TeguisegalpaI’m now back in the Big Smoke after a recent trip to Honduras. It was a brilliant trip, but also quite a sad one. The country has been in the midst of a political crisis since June, and tourism to the country has been decimated as people are afraid to visit.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential travel to the country, but from what I saw and heard while I was in Honduras, it’s only in the capital city – which tourists rarely visit anyway – that there has been any unrest. And even there, it has been peaceful protest, not violence, in the main.

As one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, it’s a blow that Honduras’s economy cannot withstand. Tourism is one of the country’s most important industries, representing 7,200 small businesses. But I spoke to several hoteliers who have had to make most of their workforce redundant because hotels are lying empty. The former tourism minister said it could take the country 10 years to recover from the financial loss.

It was a stark reminder to me of the problem inherent in a poor nation depending so heavily upon tourism. A similar thing happened in Kenya early last year, when news of some localised fighting led UK operators to cease their flights, and Kenya’s tourism ground to a halt.

Like its Central American neighbours, Honduras sees tourism as the solution to poverty. It relies upon revenue from its American and European visitors. But this puts a huge amount of power and responsibility into the hands of the US, UK and other governments, in that they are therefore able to make or break a country like Honduras. Issue a statement on the FCO or US Department of State website and tourism can cease overnight.

I wonder how exactly the FCO takes such decisions; there isn’t even a British Embassy in Honduras so I’m not sure where it gets its information from.

I can understand the need for the UK and US governments to err on the side of caution. But if we are to accept that tourism can be used for the good – to help struggling economies to work their way out of poverty – then perhaps we need to look again at the way in which governments in developed countries issue their travel guidelines.

Since I returned, the latest news from Honduras is that negotiations between the ousted president and the interim government have broken down once again, which suggests it may still be some time before international travel guidance relaxes. Unfortunately,  if neighbouring El Salvador s anything to go by, people are slow to forget. The civil war in E Salvador finished in 1992 but many still associate the country with it.

Thank God Honduras got through to the World Cup qualifiers (a big party night, I can promise you). If any country deserved a break right now, it’s this one.

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