This week i’ve been doing the same as most other Salvadorians: taking a holiday in El Salvador. Holy Week, or Semana Santa as it’s called in Spanish, is a time in El Salvador for religious devotion and ceremony, for spending time with family and friends, and for enjoying beaches, restaurants and other local holiday attractions.
For the holiday season, the Salvadorian Government has run a successful campaign promoting national tourism: ‘get closer to your country’. El Salvador has some beautiful and barely touched beaches, vibrant towns, and stunning national parks where you can hike volcanoes and swim in crater lakes – all of which I have enjoyed with my family this week!
Salvadorian families have also been out enjoying their country. In fact, I have barely seen any other foreign tourists – probably because the number of international tourists that visit El Salvador is small, even compared with other countries in Central America like Costa Rica and Belize. Surfers and backpackers make up the majority of the relatively tiny number of British tourists that come here.
One the one hand, it’s great that there are no tourist hotspots, manufactured purely for the tourist market and a far cry from true local life, as found in many other countries. But on the other hand, tourism can be an important source of income, and it is a shame that at the moment visitor numbers to El Salvador are small.
The Ministry of Tourism is though working hard to change this, and has launched several campaigns to promote international tourism, including ‘Mundo Maya’, a regional Mayan tourism initiative which I am sure will see success. A team from El Salvador visited London last November to run a stand at the World Travel Market, one of the biggest tourism fairs in the world.
Of course, there are risks and dangers in the expansion of tourism industries, and the government must take the opportunity now to protect El Salvador’s natural beauty and ensure sustainable development – ecotourism is already growing here. Security is also a concern. The tourist police providing security at most major tourist sites already help, but perceptions also matter.
One real benefit for both El Salvador and the UK of having a new British Embassy here will be our ability to improve awareness and understanding of each of the two countries, and what they have to offer each other. Having spent a week as a tourist in El Salvador, I look forward to reciprocating and sharing what the UK has to offer with Salvadorians next holiday season.
The FCO offers travel advice for British tourists visiting El Salvador. Read it here.