Sunday, January 05, 2014

Nice face, shame about the rep

 We're newly back from two weeks of travelling on the Caribbean side of Guatemala and through Belize. It's easy travel in Belize, where English is the primary language, and the little country is clearly a popular choice for North American and European travellers. But while I totally get how nice it is to just breeze through a welcoming country with great tourism infrastructure, hopefully we convinced at least a few of the travellers we met to give Honduras a try, too.
    The travellers I've met who have been to Honduras always say how much they loved their time here. It's a gorgeous place, and a person can still have the highly prized "authentic" travel experience here. But the poor country's horrible and undeserved reputation as a murderous, thieving land is certainly scaring off travellers who don't yet know the place. Many people we met appeared to be avoiding Honduras entirely as they made their way through Central America.
    We did our best to present as Honduras ambassadors in our travels, chatting up the beautiful sights we've seen here while assuring our fellow travellers that despite the scary statistics, the country is a warm and friendly place. It's also much cheaper than Belize, and the snorkelling and diving in the Bay Islands is at least comparable if not better than around the cayes of Belize's Caribbean coast. Honduras has monkeys, birds, nurse sharks, even manatees, just like Belize. It's got miles and miles of untouched beaches.
    But Honduran towns dreaming of tourism dollars definitely need to take a leaf from the Belize tourism book in learning how to promote themselves better and package their offerings in new and appealing ways. (Why, for instance, do all the horse rides in Copan Ruinas only go to La Pintada, which is actually a pretty depressing little introduction to the culture?)
    Here in the Copan region, there are a lot of interesting things to do if you speak Spanish, know who to ask, and can make your way around by bus without being frightened off by aggressive bus touts who all seem to be shoving you onto a bus that you're not sure you want to be on. But in a Belize tourist town, all a person has to do is walk down any main street to find any info they need right there at handy-dandy kiosks smack-dab in the centre of town, all with beautiful promotional material and calm, English-speaking tour drivers.
    Speaking of English, Honduras needs more. I love the Spanish language and agree wholeheartedly with the principle that a country's citizens should have the right to speak whatever language they like in their own homeland. But it's just a reality that any country hoping to score tourists needs to have way more English. I know Honduras wants a more vibrant tourist economy, and doing more to help its citizens communicate in more than one language has to be part of that.
    And of course, the Honduran government needs to play a much more active role on all fronts. You're never going to convince travellers that Honduras is safe in the absence of a clear plan to reduce violence. It's true that virtually all the violence in the country is directed at Hondurans and not foreigners, but that's a fairly small point to be trying to make to a nervous traveller poised to fly into "the most dangerous city in the world" to begin their sun vacation.
    Without sufficient tourists, tourism-based business is scared to invest. Without tourism-based business, the tourists won't come. Fewer tourists mean fewer people saying good things about Honduras, and more people thinking the country is too dangerous to visit. Something's got to give.
     The government also has to be out there responding to the terrifying travel advisories. The alarming advisories definitely don't reflect the lived experience in Honduras, but how is anyone supposed to know that if the government never responds to any of the advisories and just leaves people to presume that all the horror stories must be true?
    So yeah, Belize is beautiful. So is Honduras. But until something meaningful happens to turn around the scare statistics, who's going to know that?


Unknown said...

Wow, you have no clue about the reality of life in Honduras. People don't go to those miles of untouched beaches as they are hotbeds for narco trafficking. Nothing will happen until the "tourist areas" like Roatan begin having even more narco impact. But since they own most of Roatan and spend THEIR vacations there, they tend to keep the violence down there, for now.

Jody Paterson said...

Thanks for your comments, Charles - there's no ignoring the cocaine business, true, but Honduras is just one of the many Latin American countries that participate in the industry - including Belize - and everybody else seems to be getting the tourists. And all those drugs are moving all through the U.S., Canada and Europe without interfering without tourism. The two industries don't have to cancel each other out.
As for knowing the realities of life in Honduras, I've been living in Copan Ruinas for the last 2 years and have travelled a lot around the country with my work. I've been in the Moskitia - which really is a hotbed of narco trafficking - 3 times this year, including for almost 3 weeks in October. I think the narcos are pretty damn violent with their fellow narcos inside the cocaine industry, but that violence does not affect foreigners who aren't in the business or meddling in the business.

Anonymous said...

have to disagree as well Jody. The corruption on Roatan is like an infectious disease for which there is no cure.Both visitors and expats are subjected to criminal activities of a people who just feel it is their divine right to rip off gringo and will become violent if you object.
It is unsafe to take a taxi in Roatan. The atmosphere is aggressive and threatening on every level effecting everyone irrespective of drugs alcohol or any other excuse.
It is a culture of violence.
And the bad rep is well deserved.