What are your plans to bring foreign investment to the tourism sector?
First of all, we are modifying the Law on Tourism in the Republic of El Salvador in order to maintain attractive tax incentives for foreign and domestic investors. Secondly, we aim to introduce public investment in the tourism sector. For example, MITUR (Ministry of Tourism) has invested nearly $15 million in various aspects of the tourism sector in the last two years…. we are developing an interpretive museum, adding parking lots, creating signs for tourists and so on. Thirdly, we are opening a consultation process with the private sector to assess the possibility of public-private partnership initiatives – again in a bid to expand the tourism sector.
What campaigns are you promoting to attract tourists?
We have launched a campaign called All-Inclusive El Salvador as part of our international strategy based on our country´s attractions…. our beaches, the welcoming weather, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, forests, the Mayan world, archeology, museums, historic sites – the list goes on. The all-inclusive concept is geared towards time in the sense that one can be at a volcano in the morning and lying on a beach in the afternoon. Everything is accessible. We are trying to capitalise on this competitive advantage.
Looking ahead, what are the growth forecasts for 2012?
Two years ago we had a lot of reservations about the growth of tourism as we were immersed in the middle of a crisis, but that is now changing. We recovered last year with tourism increasing by 8.3 per cent and we hope that this year we can maintain above average growth and increase by another 4 per cent – but that is not without its challenges.
How important is health and medical tourism to El Salvador?
In El Salvador the health tourism sector is still in its infancy but growing. Plastic surgery, for example, is an attractive option for tourists and the country has plenty of good surgeons.
About 18 per cent of the country´s GDP is generated by Salvadorans living in the U.S. and sending money home – how important is this to the economy?
The Salvadoran economy receives remittances of about $4 billion annually from Salvadorans living abroad and obviously this has important consequences. The average family remittance is $250 to $300.
How would you rate present relations between the U.S. and El Salvador?
The relationship currently with the U.S. and El Salvador is excellent. Not so long ago the president of El Salvador invited U.S. president Barack Obama here, and they discussed safety issues as well as the provision of special funds to combat drug trafficking. It was a very successful meeting.