Nicaragua-So Now What?

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The press keeps rolling out article after article about the “New Costa Rica””, The next tourist hotspot”, “the top 12 places for retirement” etc. And lately you can’t read one travel website without finding at least one article about how awesome this “”undiscovered jewel “”called Nicaragua is. Maybe just 2 years ago Nicaragua wasn’t even remotely considered a country you wanted to go visit, let alone be a place you would consider retiring to. How things change! And quickly!

For those forward thinking folks, that have long ago made Nicaragua a vacation destination or their “”new home””, all the recent media hype seems unexpected. Just this past week a news that global hotel chain WYNDHAM partnered with a local real estate developer to form the WYNDHAM Milagro Del Mar Resort just outside of Managua.  Shockingly they proclaimed that Costa Rica was the first country on their preferred list for their entry into Central American territory but after doing the research felt that Nicaragua offered much better incentives and opportunities.  Also sharing the spotlight this month the new hotel by Nicaraguan multimillionaire Carlos Pellas, Mukal made its debut. The Hyatt Place and Holiday Inn hotel chains are also jumping on the bandwagon.

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So here’s the big question of the day: Is Nicaragua ready to be the next “”It”” spot? . If you ask the Minister of Tourism Mario Salinas of INTUR, he’ll tell you, “”of course we’re ready but please don’t call us the Next Costa Rica””. It is very clear that globally famous hotel chains would not even consider setting up shop in a country once described as “”poverty stricken”” and ravaged by war……words I feel uncomfortable even putting in writing  here.

The people of Nicaragua seem to take their new found fame in stride, most of the being minimally interested in all the hoopla. Most of them are probably wondering, “” ok, so now what?” This is partly due to the fact that they have always considered their country to be a safe, inviting, culturally diverse, scenic, tourist friendly and peaceful nation. After surviving through years of civil war, poverty, corrupt governments, and being labeled the poorest country in the western hemisphere (next to Haiti)it stands to reason that most Nicaraguans are more concerned about how to feed their families and maintain the peaceful lifestyle they have come to love and appreciate. With a large percentage of the adult population Illiterate or minimally educated, tourism means little to them in terms of an individual economic impact. Most won’t be eligible for work in most of these new tourist draws, except for those who have experience in tourism or construction; a sector that will see enormous growth in job creations over the next few years or so.

Tourism in Nicaragua is still in its infancy stages, without a clearly defined plan on how to effectively deal with the new influx of tourists/investors. Well seasoned travelers may be pleasantly surprised to see modern infrastructure in place that would provide a very pleasurable travel experience to Nicaragua.  Wonderful things are happening here as a result of tourism, but much work needs to be done to get the country up to speed on how to effectively capitalize on the new notoriety. In many key areas of the country it seems like  the dinner guests have arrived but the food isn’t cooked yet.

Perhaps there is still some time left for Nicaragua to work out all the kinks, and ensure that when the curtain rises on the world stage and they take their bows, they will be ready!

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