There will be more rooms to fill in Honduras. Ricardo Martinez, the country's minister of tourism, said the country plans to significantly increase its number of hotel rooms in the next five years as part of a larger plan to increase tourism.

Honduras currently has 908 hotels totaling 20,000 rooms, according to Martinez. By 2011, the country plans to add between 8,000 and 10,000 rooms. 

Some of those new rooms will be built in a 16,000-acre region along the Tela-La Ceiba corridor on Honduras' north shore.

"Tela-La Ceiba fits in perfectly with current demand," said Martinez. "We call it 'eco-beach' because it has beaches next to national parks."

About $22 million is being invested privately in the corridor to construct two resorts; the first is expected to open within two years, according to Martinez.

The government, meanwhile, is spending about $15 million to improve Tela's infrastructure, including roads, electrical power and water treatment facilities.

Construction is a common sight on Roatan, Photo by Mark Chesnutthe lush Honduran island that draws travelers looking for natural beauty and a relaxed, Caribbean-style vacation. About 400 rooms are under construction on the island, according to Martinez.

He emphasized that hotels on Roatan will remain small. The largest hotel on the island is the 110-room Henry Morgan, but most properties have fewer than 50 rooms.

Traveling between mainland Honduras and Roatan has become a bit more comfortable, thanks to the introduction of the Galaxy Wave ferry, which began linking La Ceiba with Roatan in August.

The 452-passenger ferry, which makes the trip in about an hour, has LCD flat-screen TVs and two classes of service. The ferry serves a brand-new terminal in Roatan, which replaces the former facility in Coxen Hole.

Passengers visiting Roatan via cruise ships will arrive at an expanded cruise port in 2008, which will enable them to come ashore without using tenders.

Copan, the site of ancient Mayan ruins, is one of the Honduras' best-known tourist attractions, but it is currently reached via a rather lengthy road trip from San Pedro Sula. That could change if plans for a new airport in Copan come to fruition.  The government has earmarked funds for a commercial airfield, but the project is awaiting UNESCO approval, due to its proximity to the ruins.

"We think [the new airport] will change Copan's life, like it did in Roatan," Martinez said. "Before we built the airport in Roatan, people stayed for much shorter [time periods]. Visitors to Copan now stay only one to two nights."

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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