Tourism to Central America has fallen by 8% this year compared to last year.
The sharp drop means that tourist numbers will fall back to fewer than 8m people by year end, who stayed for a shorter period of time and spent less money.
However, tourism ministers at this year’s Central America Travel Market predicted the market would pick up in the second quarter of next year.
Central America Travel Association president, Alan Flores, said: “The economic crisis has certainly affected our economies and also affected tourism.
“We have seen an average eight per cent fall this year which has also affected stay and spend.”
European visitors account for just 9% of total visitor numbers to the region, but their average 12-day length of stay and $200 per day spend is significantly higher than any other region.
North American visitors make up almost half of all visitors to the region.
Flores said the seven countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), all had plans in place to stimulate tourism next year.
He added that the recent merger between Avianca and TACA would also help increase tourist numbers.
Flores, who is also Costa Rica’s tourism minister, said his country had invested $20m in tourism promotions.
“We are going to continue to have a difficult situation in regards to travel, but we will see an improvement on 2009,” he added.
And Dionne Chamberlaine, the president of the Belize Tourism Authority, said: “We musn’t rely on one market. We are looking towards new markets such as Russia, Canada, Mexico and Europe.”
Ricardo Martinez, the tourism minister of Honduras – which has suffered the highest falls in tourist numbers due to the coup – predicted that numbers would start to climb again in the second quarter of next year, but added:
“The average stay is going to grow very little and neither is the average spend.”
The one bright spot for all the countries in terms of tourism is the cruise sector, which continues to grow despite the economic downturn.
Martinez confirmed that cruise lines were not cancelling itineraries to Honduras, and Royal Caribbean’s port development on the island of Roatan was continuing as planned.
Mike Singh, Belize tourism minister said: “The average spend of cruise passengers is $100 a day and that compares with overnight tourism. We are co-operating very closely with cruise companies.”