[private] While there are opportunities in crisis, using ones scarce resources effectively becomes especially important–which is why I was a bit surprised to see a double page ad paid for by the Honduran Ministry of Tourism in the December issue of Archeology magazine, a publication read by tens of thousands of archeology enthusiasts in the US. They had an image of a Mayan calendar, some dead trees, a strange planet partially covering a moon and three paragraphs of text, poorly written, with style and grammatical errors–basically gibberish. “This [December 21, 2012] phenomenon … has been handled in different ways… and has sparked countless speculations about what will happen, including the end of humanity.” The text was signed firstname.lastname@example.org, with a phone number to call: 800-410-9608.
The ad not only introduced a strange planet into our solar system, it also exhibited the Honduran Ministry of Tourism’s confusion about how and to whom Honduras should be marketed as a tourist destination. Honduras and Copan were presented as amateurish, freakish and bizarre, a place at which to spend Halloween, not December 2012. Its only fortunate that “Borat” comedian Sacha Cohen chose to make fun of Kazakhstan and left Honduras alone.
Marketing Honduras and Copan to the right people in the right way is crucial. Around 4.5%, or $675 million, of Honduran GDP comes from tourism, yet the country reinvests a fraction of that, only $2.8 million, on promoting itself abroad. Nicaragua, recently visited by Ahmadinejad, spends almost twice that yet has no Mayan ruins or white-sand beaches to speak off.
The current Honduras crisis pales in comparison with what is currently going on in Egypt, Kenya, even Japan–country’s with far larger tourist sectors. Still, Honduras can’t figure out how to help tourists find their way here.
As crisis deepens in Honduras, the countries of Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala face their own worsening security situations. One unspoken rule of crisis is, “When it happens at your neighbors, help them as you help yourself.”
As mass tourism from the US abroad declines, Hondurans should diversify their offer. Diversifying touriss offers in the Bay Islands is the only way forward as the condition of the reef deteriorates and diving becomes less attractive.
And there are people doing exactly that. A friend of mine is investing in building Honduras’ biggest palapa. Someone else is preparing to invite a world-famous free-diving instructor to lead a course on Roatan. A yoga instructor course was given on the island last year.
An even more important strategy to survive in lean times is to keep what you have. Honduras has been a great center for relief tourism and volunteer tourism for decades. However, programs such as the Peace Corps brought millions of dollars to Honduras through work projects and cash spent by volunteers and their families. Now the program had been suspended for security reasons.
In December around 158 Peace Corps volunteers were pulled out from what was one of the organization’s biggest programs in the world. Honduras isn’t alone in this situation as Peace Corp operations closed in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1991 and in El Salvador from 1980 to 1993 for security reasons. The chances are, several years, perhaps even a decade will have to pass before the Peace Corps returns to Honduras.
It is important to keep things going, despite how bad the economy gets. Sadly, in 2011 Utila did not have its carnival for the first time in nine years. While the economy was tough, I believe a scaled-down Utila Carnival would have been a fun, well-organized, tourism-boosting affair. Small is beautiful, and consistency is key. Once an event is dropped from the calendar, bringing it back becomes especially difficult.
Crises do not grow into unmanageable problems forever. They are eventually tackled and solved. Crises offer opportunities to focus not on the ostentatious things but on the simpler things in life: the value of friendships, time spent with loved ones, appreciating the little things in life. The time we invest with our parents, friends and family is what we remember most from our lives. In the end we remember the interactions, not the material things as much. [/private]