Honduras could take 10 years to recover from the impact of its current political crisis which has seen tourist numbers plummet by 70%.
The country’s president, Manuel Zelaya, was forced into exile by the military in June but returned secretly in late September. He has been holed up at the Brazilian embassy in the capital city of Tegucigalpa since then.
The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the country. In the US, Honduras’s biggest market, similar guidance has been issued.
Ricardo Martinez, minister of tourism under Zelaya, said tourist arrivals had fallen by 70%.
Tourism is the country’s biggest earner, employing 155,000 people and an important sector for 7,000 small businesses.
Much-needed investment in infrastructure, such as a new airport at Copan and a new highway link to El Salvador, has been withdrawn.
“The Economic Commission for Latin America estimates we will take around 10 years to recover from the damage,” Martinez told delegates.
Many Hondurans feel media coverage of the situation has been misleading. Martinez emphasised that key tourist destinations, at Copan and along the country’s Caribbean coast, have not been affected.
Flavia Cueva, owner of Hacienda San Lucas in the Copan Valley, said she needed tourists to return soon. “We were running at 88% occupancy before this. Now we’re down to 12% and I’ve had to let many of my staff go,” she said.
Journey Latin America product manager Rafe Stone said the capital can easily be avoided.
“We don’t have anyone in Honduras at the moment,” he said. “But if clients wanted to go to the ruins at Copan, for example, they can enter the country via Guatemala instead.”