From 2 October 2010, Iberia will start flying between San Salvador and Madrid, becoming the first European airline to connect both cities. The four new weekly flights (on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) will also allow travellers to connect to other Central American cities with TACA, and to other European cities from Madrid with Iberia.
Thanks to a code-sharing agreement with TACA Airlines, passengers will be able to fly onward to (or from) other Central American cities such as Managua, San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa.
Iberia expects to carry around 40,000 passengers on the new route during the first year of operation. The carrier will use Airbus A-340/300 aircraft, with capacity for 254 passengers, including 36 Business Plus flat-bed seats, recently enhanced to allow up to 2.20 metres of space per passenger.
Flights will depart San Salvador at 19:40 hours and arrive in Madrid at 14:15 hours the following day, from where passengers will be able to connect to 41 other cities in Europe and 9 in Africa. The return flight will depart Madrid at 12:30 hours, touching down in Guatemala at 15:45 hours before continuing to San Salvador, arriving there at 17:20 hours. From here, passengers will be able to take connecting flights to other Central American cities.
Iberia currently flies from Europe to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. The new flights will help consolidate the carrier’s presence in Central America, and increase its market share, currently 42% (or 52% for Business Class travellers) of all European flights to the region. In 2010 Iberia will have a total of 374,000 seats on flights from Europe to Central America, compared to 200,000 in 2005, and 11% more than in 2009. In the last two years, Iberia has carried more than 1.3 million passengers on these routes.
Boost for tourism to Central America
The new flights will not only help make El Salvador more accessible to European tourists, but also attract more visitors to the whole of Central America. The region, which includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, markets itself as a multi-destination under the umbrella brand “Central America, so small…so great” since 2002.
One of the region’s main attractions is its rich Maya heritage, with major sites which are more than 3000 years old in Belize (Caracol), El Salvador (Joya de Ceren), Guatemala (Copan) and Honduras (Tikal). The region’s cultural offering also includes colonial cities like Antigua in Guatemala, Leon and Granada in Nicaragua, or Portobelo and the Old Quarter of Panama City in Panama, and the opportunity to meet indigenous communities like the kuna and embera in Panama or the garífuna in Belize and Honduras.
Central America boasts 7% of the world’s biodiversity, with Costa Rica considered amongst the top 20 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world, and a major ecotourism destination. Other key natural assets are the region’s pristine beaches and the world’s second largest barrier reef flanking Belize and Honduras.
Modern cities such as San Salvador and Panama City are increasingly popular destinations for meetings and incentives, and there are 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the region.
Besides, new products have been developed to promote the whole region, such as the Colonial Cities and Volcanoes Trail. Stretching for 1000km through the region, the trail connects all the main colonial cities and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a variety of adventure sports and other outdoor pursuits on the many volcanoes along the way.
Thanks to better flight connections and promotional efforts, the number of visitors to Central America increased by 6% in the first two months of 2010, compared to the same period last year, including 151,802 European tourists.