Without doubt, Hurricane Mitch was the storm of the century. While
the organizations and governments around the world launched
immediate disaster relief efforts to areas where people had lost
their homes and livelihoods, miraculously, most tourist areas and
facilities escaped damages from the high winds and rains.
However, Andrea Holbrook, president of Holbrook Travel in
Gainesville, Fla. reported that "Hurricane Mitch, in creating a
broad image of regional hardship, had also created a problem in
selling not just destinations affected by the storm but all of
"Right after the storm, we found that even Costa Rica, which was
not in Mitch's path, was affected."
In addition to Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama were out of
harm's way, and again miraculously, Mitch sidestepped Belize where
damages were restricted to Ambergris Caye. Resorts on the island
lost their docks and dive shops, which were rebuilt for the
Christmas season -- reportedly a good one.
Guatemala was not hit directly by Mitch, but flooding did take
out some roadways and bridges in the south. According to Mark
Rogers, of Clark Tours in Guatemala, Guatemala's president "Alvaro
Arzu did a great job, and the bridges and highways were reopened in
72 hours. Yet, our cancellation rate was severe for November
through April, a season that before Mitch showed almost full
bookings in the countryside."
American Airlines, in conjunction with its AmericanAirlines
Vacations program, targeted Guatemala for a special travel bonus
project to help restore tourism to one of the area's most important
destinations. A bonus of 10,000 frequent flyer mileage points is
being awarded to all clients booked on any of the AA Vacations
during February, March and April.
According to Jaime Alvarez, president of Miami-based 4th
Dimension Tours, which operates a separate division handling
American's private label program, "the bonus points promotion for
Guatemala has been launched over concern that extensive media
coverage of damages in Honduras and Nicaragua has spilled over
particularly into Guatemala -- although in many ways to all of
Alvarez says that with the resumption of a normal tourist flow
into Guatemala, the benefits would also accrue to neighboring
Honduras whose Maya ruins at Copan are a popular day trip or
extension to visitor itineraries in Guatemala.
Damage and the greatest toll in human life in Honduras centered
around the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and the Bay Island of
Guanaja took a big hit. However, by Christmas, the Pousada del Sol
(800-642-3483) and the Bayman Bay Club (800-524-1823) were open for
business. On Roatan, resorts on the south shore were unaffected,
with the exception of Anthony's Key which reopened on Feb. 1
(800-227-3483) with 16 additional air conditioned units. On the
island of Utila, there was little damage, other than to dive docks
which have been repaired, and in general, surveys show that the
reefs that draw divers in droves to the Bay Islands are in good
The country's leading inland attraction of Copan required road
repairs in the aftermath of Mitch; these were completed two weeks
after the storm. Additionally, access roads from Guatemala, as well
as the little airfield on the Guatemala side of the border, served
by Jungle Flying from Flores, are fully operational.
In Nicaragua, Hurricane Mitch hit hardest in the most rural
areas, while attractions of interest to tourists, such as the
popular and deluxe resort of Montelimar, seem to have avoided
damages and all facilities are working, if under-utilized by the
North American market.
Hermine Taramona of Tara Tours feels that Nicaragua is the
country that has come the furthest in the region. "The public and
private sectors have worked hard and they have accomplished a lot
in their interesting and appealing country," says Taramona.
The country has enormous potential, she said, ticking off some
of its attributes: Two grand colonial cities, Granada and Leon
where visitors can tour around by horse and buggy; Corn Island, a
magic and pristine natural wonderland, and Masaya volcano, about as
close as one can get to the caldera where "you can look right down
into its throat."
Grupo TACA's president Federico Block has affirmed that "the
best way the world can demonstrate its solidarity with Central
America is to increase business and visit our region. The tourism
industry in our various countries generates work and benefits for
millions of people, and it is essential to regenerate tourism as
fast as possible." n