José Napoleón Duarte Durán, minister of tourism for El Salvador, spoke to Breaking Travel News during the Central American Travel Market, this year taking place in San Salvador.
Duarte has held the post of minister of tourism for El Salvador for nine years, “in which time my beard has turned from black to grey” he quipped.
A daunting post to fill, he has succeeded in creating an El Salvadorian tourism industry worth $1.4 billion and one that sees 10.8 million trips annually.
Duarte isn’t yet done with the job, however, he is on a mission to change the international perception of tourism in El Salvador.
With an emphasis on multi-destination travel, El Salvador is working closely with neighbouring countries Guatemala and Honduras to promote tourism for an international market.
Duarte told Breaking Travel News: “The USA continues to be Central America’s primary market, however, a budget of half a million dollars is set aside to promote tourism in the European countries of the UK, Spain, and Italy.
When asked what strategies are in place to achieve this, Duarte explained that the ministry has a five-pronged strategy.
“These come under the themes of promotion; cooperation; familiarisation trips; road shows; and international travel fairs,” he added.
The ministry of tourism’s annual budget for all of the above is $18 million per year, some $1.5 of which is used for El Salvadorian representation at travel shows around the world.
This year saw China being represented at Central American Travel Market for the first time.
The minister for tourism for China and Taiwan was present at the opening ceremony of the event and the fair was attended by members of the Chinese press.
They, along with the rest of the international media and travel-agents, enjoyed both pre- and post-fair familiarisation tours.
Organised by Central American Tourism Agency, the pre-fair tours took in a variety of locations across El Salvador.
Each of the other Central American countries were represented in the post-fair tours, reflecting the campaign of promoting multi-destination Central American travel.
Duarte meets the international press during the Central America Travel Market, including Breaking Travel News reporter Eleanor Hawkins
“El Salvador currently sees 2.5 million tourists,” Duarte said.
However, many potential visitors may be deterred because of safety concerns.
Duarte acknowledged that this was an issue affecting tourist numbers.
To address this he told Breaking Travel News that: “More than 1,000 tourist police (POLITUR) have been employed, with special training in customer service and first aid.
“The officers will be stationed at popular tourist destinations and routes to assist with any issues they may have.”
There are currently no direct flights from the United Kingdom to El Salvador, making travel to the country and unattractive prospect for many UK tourists.
It currently takes approximately 24 hours with two transfers, usually through Madrid.
Although not mentioning any prospect of a direct route at present, Duarte spoke of an “important meeting to be held in May where he will discuss the potential of creating direct routes to the Netherlands, Poland and Germany.”
In keeping with Duarte’s mission to improve El Salvador’s image he has invited ambassadors from Europe to “write something different about the country”.
Using the Japanese as a guide, Duarte instigated the ‘My Towns’ initiative which encourages people from every town to join in with tourism, be it developing artisanal products, focusing on gastronomy, hospitality or teaching people to be tour guides.
Each town has its own unique selling point which Duarte intends to exploit for the good of the tourism industry.
It is with initiatives like this, Duarte told Breaking Travel News, “that the people really start to understand the benefits of tourism to their nation”.
This message is echoed in the unveiling of the new El Salvadorian slogan “El Salvador, great like the people”.
Duarte will attend a conference next month in Washington where he will work with the US TV network CNN to spread this message.
He will then go on a world tour to promote the slogan and work closely with journalists and bloggers across the world.
After nearly a decade in the job of Durate still has plenty of work to do but also plenty of ideas and enthusiasm to get it done.
Find out more about what Breaking Travel News found during the Central America Travel Market here.
Or take a look at what Breaking Travel News reporter Phil Sharp found when he visited the country here.