We are all wondering how we will manage to restart tourism. All the Central American countries rely heavily on tourism for their economies. Therefore, getting tourism back up and running is imperative. However, lifting the lockdown and opening borders and airports to international flights seems risky, and could throw out the window the sacrifice of a three-month long shutdown. Relying on the local market to jump start tourism is a good first step, but let us face it, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Belize do not have large populations to support the local tourism. Perhaps, the solution is the creation of a Central American Travel Bubble.
What is a Travel Bubble?
The concept of a travel bubble was first floated last week by Australia and New Zealand. The idea is that once they get a handle on the spread of the Covid-19 virus, they can allow travel between both countries that have implemented similar policies and flattened the curve. This is an interesting concept for Central America. First, there is a Central American agency that works on integrating policy throughout the region (SICA). There are health, environment, tourism, and different counsels that work together to achieve these goals. Heck, there is even a Central America Tourism Agency, best known as CATA that promotes the region as a multi-country destination.
Second, I can mention that most Central American countries, went into a lockdown. They all closed their borders and took precautionary measures to control the pandemic. Perhaps the only outlier within the region is Nicaragua, that has not taken many measures. I certainly believe that a Central American Travel Bubble that includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras makes a lot of sense. For one, these countries and their travel destinations are within driving distance. This means that citizens from those countries can easily drive to anyone of those destinations.
Different Tourism Assets Make These Countries Perfect Allies!
Third, these countries have hugely different tourism assets between them. Honduras offers the Caribbean Coast, with the Bay Islands and outstanding diving in the Mesoamerican reef system. The Garifuna culture is unique to this country. Guatemala offers the ethnic Maya people, with their traditional culture and the spectacular Mayan ruins. El Salvador has some of the best surfing beaches in the World.
Fourth, we all speak the same language and travel with US dollars. The Central American banks offer great ATM services within the region. Finally, if something goes wrong and you need to get back to your country, there is only one border to cross between these countries. This means that you are always going to be able to get back home. I personally was forced to make a homeward bound journey from Mexico to Honduras that not an easy task. We still get messages from Hondurans around the World that are still trying to find a way back home!
I am banking on this Central American Travel Bubble to go into place sometime within the next two months. I really believe there is no better way to jump start the local economies, allow folks that have been in a lockdown for three months to get out and enjoy a short vacation in a safe manner. Highway travel will be predominant in this first stage of the Central American Travel Bubble. We still do not know what the status of the local airlines will be. For one, Avianca, the airline with the most presence and routes in Central America has just sought the protection of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws in the USA. Not banking on them offering many flights within the region.