Category: Tourism and Hospitality

TopicsTourism and Hospitality

Discover Nicaragua

By Elizabeth Perkins

At first glance, Nicaragua is brilliant green trees and brightly colored flowers, birdcalls and rich coffee, colonial architecture, and monkeys swinging from branches. Spend some time here, and you’ll hear the rhythmic pounding of hands forming wet cornmeal into tortillas and notice the scent of plantains frying in hot oil. Take a closer look, and you’ll find community. Families sit in front of their houses after a hard day’s work, chatting with their neighbors while children play in the street. Strangers look out for each other on public buses. Folks organize to change problems in their neighborhoods.

For travelers, Nicaragua is a gem hidden in the rough. Tropical rainforests and soaring volcanoes offer endless opportunities for hiking and exploring. Sandy beaches with shimmering waters allow for languid beachcombing and swimming, while surfers flock to the shores for some of the best waves in the region. Charming cities have thriving dining and nightlife scenes and flourishing café cultures set amidst grand cathedrals and centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture.

A culture of collectivism has emerged in response to centuries of injustice. Nicaragua has a tumultuous and battered past, but the Nicaraguan people have learned to depend on their own resourcefulness to get by. Today, you will see this spirit of self-reliance in agricultural cooperatives, artisan collectives, and community organizations—including a burgeoning industry of community tourism—across the country.

Nicaragua is a place to slow down and step into a more relaxed rhythm. Pack a little flexibility, good humor, and, ideally, some basic Spanish. Whether soaking up some sun while sipping rum on the beach, sharing coffee with a rural family, or speeding down a river on a motorboat, you’ll find Nicaragua to be just as its Ministry of Tourism describes it: “unspoiled, uncommon, and unforgettable.”

When to Go

December-February is generally the coolest, least rainy time to visit. August-October is cool as well, but it’s more likely to rain. You’ll also find more Europeans and fewer North Americans during these months. During March-May, the hottest, driest months, dust is inescapable. Juneand July are hot and rainy, followed by hurricane season September-November, when you’re likely to encounter torrential downpours most afternoons.

Invierno (winter) refers to Nicaragua’s rainy season (May-November). Verano (summer) refers to the dry season (December-April). Due to global warming, it’s now unlikely to encounter rain that lasts for days on the Pacific side of the country, but it still may rain heavily for hours (or just briefly shower) every afternoon.

There are some events worth planning your time around. Anywhere you go during Semana Santa(the week leading up to Easter), expect big crowds and higher prices. Spanish-speakers (and learners) should make a point to attend Granada’s Poetry Festival at the end of February. If you’re looking for a party, San Juan del Sur’s Earthship Pitaya Festival in early March is a must. Catch thePalo de Mayo festival on the Atlantic coast throughout May, and the Crab Soup Festival on the Corn Islands August 27-28. Masaya’s Agüisotes festival on the penultimate Friday in October draws large crowds. In early December, Nicaragua celebrates La Purísima.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

TopicsTourism and Hospitality

Economic Impact of Tourism on Nicaragua

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the global authority on the economic and social contribution of Travel & Tourism, promotes sustainable growth for the sector, working with governments and international institutions to create jobs, to drive exports and to generate prosperity. Together with its research partner, Oxford Economics, WTTC produces annual research that shows Travel & Tourism to be one of the world’s largest sectors, supporting over 276 million jobs and generating 9.8% of global GDP in 2014.

Travel and tourism play a critical role in the economic activity in most countries around the world, and this has never been more true than in Nicaragua.  According to the WTTC Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2015 report on Nicaragua, the tourism industry generated 87,000 jobs directly in 2014 (3.5% of total employment) and this is forecast to fall by 2.8% in 2015 to 84,500 (3.3% of total employment). This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.

By 2025, travel and  tourism will account for 76,000 jobs directly, a decrease of 1.1% pa over the next ten years.

The same report shows that in terms of GDP, domestic travel spending generated 60.6% of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2014 compared with 39.4% for visitor exports (ie foreign visitor spending or international tourism receipts).Domestic travel spending is expectedto grow by 4.8% in 2015 and rise by 4.2% in 2025. Visitor exports are expected to grow by 3.2% in 2015 and rise by 6.7%  in 2025.

The Boston Globe reported that these growth stats are making Nicaragua one of the world’s top ten emerging destinations. In a recent publication, the journal wrote “Industry experts are calling Nicaragua the hottest destination in Central America, and one of its best bargains…The political climate has long settled down and the country is throwing out the welcome mat to foreign visitors, investing in infrastructure and facilities.”

The outlook for travel and tourism in 2016 looks very promising too. The Nicaraguan government keeps on creating incentives for tourism development, particularly, and a more favorable climate for investment in general. Therefore, as more and more companies invest in the country, not only tourist on vacation, it becomes necessary to invest in new infrastructure and human resources, which also means the creation of more jobs and opportunities for the whole country to move towards a better future.


TopicsTourism and Hospitality

Green Tourism Boom in Nicaragua

by Sarah Gilbert

When it comes to eco-tourism in Nicaragua, it may sound like an outlandish trend, something that most foreigners can only afford to get in some of their own first world countries. However, recent economic growth in Nicaragua has fostered the fast-paced development of the tourist industry in the country. According to Sarah Gilbert, picture editor for the Guardian US, tourism is this Central American nation’s largest industry, which increased by 20% last year.Mrs. Gilbert’s visit to Nicaragua inspired her to write about our country and recommend some of the eco-friendly tourist resorts where she stayed. The following is an abridged version of the original article featuring in the Guardian:

Nicaragua’s landscape of lakes and volcanoes, lush rainforests and deserted beaches is a nature lover’s paradise. With 76 protected areas covering over 20% of its landmass, it outstrips its more popular neighbor for eco-tourism, Costa Rica. Containing the largest area of primary rainforest north of the Amazon, it is home to 7% of the world’s biodiversity, including many endangered species such as howler, white-faced and spider monkeys. Jaguars and crocodiles, meanwhile, are plentiful, as are a multitude of birds, butterflies and orchids; the Indio-Maíz reserve alone has more species of trees, birds and insects than the whole of Europe.

As the Nicaraguan government struggles to meet the challenges of deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and poaching, it has been left to forward-thinking individuals to develop a sustainable tourism industry. There is, of course, a danger that visitors will be “greenwashed” in the scramble for the eco-tourist dollar, but as long as the International Ecotourism Society’s definition of eco-tourism (“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people”) is kept in mind, Costa Rican-style excesses such as “eco-car hire” will hopefully be avoided.

Options for the green tourist in Nicaragua

1. Finca Esperanza Verde (Green Hope Farm)

The setting of Finca Esperanza Verde – lush green mountains interspersed with wisps of cloud – couldn’t be more conducive to relaxation.

Founded in 1998 by a non-profit organisation based in North Carolina, the farm ploughs its profits back into the nearby town of San Ramón, funding community projects such as a school for local children and reforestation and fresh water schemes.

Hikes through the nature reserve with local guides – all ex-agricultural workers- offer spectacular bird-watching opportunities. A visit to the butterfly farm is also a must. The altitude also lends itself to shade-grown arabica coffee and from November to February you can help with the harvest and witness the wholly organic process in action.

The lodge and cabins are built of handmade brick and local materials. All waste is composted, showers are solar-powered and the electricity comes from a hydro scheme. The meals are healthy and delicious and visitors can even get their own environmentally friendly napkin for the length of their stay.

2. Domitila Private Wildlife Reserve

One of the last remaining areas of dry tropical forest on the Pacific coast, this private reserve – the first in Nicaragua when it opened in 2001 – is owned by Doña Maria Jose Mejia. A feisty and determined lady, she’s passionate about conserving the biodiversity of the land that has been in her husband’s family for generations. She’s equally determined to foster an ethos of conservation in the surrounding communities, beginning with the education of her staff.

As well as containing over 200 howler monkeys, Domitila is the habitat of numerous species of birds, butterflies, insects and flowers, and is a flourishing centre for specialist scientific study.

3. Morgan’s Rock hacienda and ecolodge

Morgan’s Rock is the antithesis of the condos springing up around nearby San Juan del Sur. Beautifully constructed from a variety of sustainably-sourced woods, the fifteen solar-powered cabins were created to blend into their surroundings. There’s no air conditioning, but the walls are open to allow the Pacific breeze to filter through. There’s no TV either: just the sound of the crashing surf. The alfresco shower is perfect after a day on the beach, while the alfresco swing bed is perfect anytime.

Visitors can hike, cycle, ride, kayak, boogie board or simply lounge by the pool safe. The land was bought by the French agronomist Clement Ponçon in 1998, and its 4,500 acres include tree-farming, reforestation and conservation schemes. The Ponçons have planted over 1.5 million trees and tourist can even plant their own.

4. Rio Indio Lodge

“Monkeys here and there; birds warbling; gorgeous plumaged birds on the wing; Paradise itself, the imperial realm of beauty – nothing to wish for to make it perfect.” That was Mark Twain’s description of the Rio San Juan in 1866 – but little has changed since then.

The Rio Indio Lodge is set in the Rio San Juan wildlife reserve, within sight of the one remaining dredger from the abandoned shipping canal. One can dine on fresh fish and enormous river shrimp in the impressive lodge before going to sleep in family-sized wooden cabins surrounded by lush vegetation and separated by thatch-roofed walkways.

The Indío-Maiz reserve is a wild and wonderful network of rivers flanked by mile upon mile of virgin rain forest. The lodge, from where it is easily reached, donates petrol to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Natural Resources to help them fight illegal poaching in the area, and works with them to control gill net fishing.

Rainforest hikes, bird watching, river kayaking and sport fishing are all on offer. The guides are Rama Indians. Indigenous to the reserve, they’re ex-hunters with a knack for seeing the unseeable. They also speak English, a legacy from the days when the area was a British protectorate.


Tourism and Hospitality

Travel and Tourism in Nicaragua

(taken from Euromonitor International)

Tourism industry has mixed opinions of Nicaragua’s Grand Canal project
With the backing of China and Russia, the Nicaraguan government is expected to begin construction of the US$40 billion Nicaragua Canal in late 2014. The 286 kilometre canal will connect the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Nicaragua, traversing Lake Nicaragua along the way, and will directly compete with the Panama Canal in shipping. The canal is expected to bring overall economic growth to the country, but many fear that it will negatively affect the tourism industry. For example, visitors may be deterred by the large-scale construction of the project, which will create an unattractive landscape, noise and traffic. After the canal is completed, the presence of large ships in Lake Nicaragua, where the popular tourist spot, Isla de Ometepe, is located, may deter visitors. Furthermore, the canal may pollute and damage delicate ecosystems in Lake Nicaragua and protected rainforests, preventing development of eco-tourism.

However, some argue that the canal may be a significant tourist attraction similar to the Panama Canal, where its main visitor center in Miraflores, receives almost 800,000 visitors annually.

Lack of bilingual workforce inhibits Nicaragua tourism growth
The US is Nicaragua’s second leading source country after Honduras, accounting for 21% of visitors in 2013. According to the Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo, (INTUR), the US, Canada and Europe combined accounted for 30% share of arrivals to the country in 2013. Furthermore, many visitors from European countries do not expect employees to speak their language and therefore default to using English. For this reason, demand for bilingual travel retail employees and accommodation and foodservice staff is high. However, the Asociación de Turoperadoras Turísticas de Nicaragua estimates that less than 25% of total tour guides are proficient in English, while the Asociacion de Pequeños Hoteles de Nicaragua (HOPEN) notes that less than half of those who apply for jobs in hotels or foodservice can confidently speak English. Not only are some potential visitors hesitant to visit the country due to the lack of bilingual services but businesses also face higher costs due to the scarcity of bilingual employees, who charge premium for their services. As a result, some industry stakeholders argue that those who attend university tourism or hospitality programs require basic proficiency in English to graduate.

Nicaragua seeks greater tourism expenditure via high-end visitors
Nicaragua is considered to be one of the “cheapest” destinations for travel in Central America, which is a key draw for visitors. Tourism expenditure is the lowest in the region at US$41 per day, less than half of daily spend in neighbouring Costa Rica according to the Tourism Secretary of the Central American Integrations System (SICA). While the government seeks to attract more visitors in terms of volume, it is also wants to attract visitors with higher spending habits. However, the tourism industry currently lacks a wide range of high-end offerings that would attract greater spending. Only 100 of the 750 registered hotels are ranked three to five stars and the accommodation industry just added its first five-star hotel with construction of the Mukul luxury resort in 2013. Furthermore, the country lacks direct air connections, which further limits development of high-end tourism. The government and other stakeholders began to increase investment to attract high-end visitors over the review period, but further development in accommodation and air transportation will be necessary for success.