Ongoing growth in tourism to El Salvador

El Salvador is continuing to experience a tourism boom.   One way to measure this is just be looking at the number of people arriving at the country's international airport.  The number of travelers arriving by air into El Salvador increased from 1.5 million to 2 million, jumping by 33% from 2022 to 2023. By any measure, that is a significant jump and represents a strong indicator that tourism is surging in El Salvador.  The Ministry of Tourism stated that, when entries to El Salvador from neighboring countries were included, there were a total of 3.4 million visitors in 2023.     

The country is about to enter an important time of visits.  The Ministry of Tourism is projecting that during Semana Santa, which begins on Saturday, the country will receive 126,000 international visitors, with $110 million in tourism spending and  4.2 million visits to touristic sites, beaches and the Historic Center of San Salvador. 

On El Salvador's Pacific coast, from my personal observations, it is easy to see the growing number of new hotels and restaurants, and the government is also working on infrastructure improvements to serve international visitors.  The coastal area is where you will find the majority of tourists who are not members of the Salvadoran diaspora.

El Tunco Beach

Non-diaspora visitors are less visible at sites in the interior of the country, but Salvadorans from outside the country, who may not have visited in a long time, if at all, are definitely on hand.   

This government understands marketing in a way that prior Salvadoran governments did not.  You can see this in the quality of its promotional material, in its use of social media, and the quality of improvements at tourist sites like national parks and cultural sites.  To get mindshare in the international travel audience, the government has sponsored international events. such as the Miss Universe contest or international surfing competitions.  The international media interest in Nayib Bukele spills over into coverage of the country as a destination. 

The government website at ElSalvador.Travel does a nice job of providing information and promoting all regions of the country.

Newly remodeled Puerta del Diablo visitor site

There are large numbers of persons, call them "influencers" or "content creators" or just people who want to make money producing YouTube and TikTok content featuring places to go and visit in El Salvador.  A search "Visit El Salvador" in YouTube provides video after video of what you must see and do in this Central American country.

One gap I wish the government would fill, however, is promotion of the more traditional celebrations of Semana Santa throughout the country.   Trying to research for this post, I could find no mention on either the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Culture, or the Salvadoran Institute of Tourism sites of such traditions as alfombras (colored sand murals in the streets), Holy Week processions, such as those in Izalco, Sonsonante or the historic center of San Salvador, or traditions like the devils of Texistepeque.  It almost feels like a boycotting of any traditions which grew out of Roman Catholicism in the country.

If you want some ideas of where to visit this year to experience these traditions, see this 2023 post.

To be sure, there are plenty of caveats to be placed around enthusiastic praise of tourism as a solution to El Salvador's problems.   The jobs which are created in tourism service industries are, for the most part, low-paying.  Developments may threaten fragile eco-systems and put additional strain on the country's scarce water resource.  Families are displaced from their homes to make way for public improvements.  Real estate prices and cost of housing soars out of the reach of poor Salvadorans in tourism zones.  A government which ignores the rule of law and imprisons and tortures tens of thousands can put a pretty face on itself and invite visitors to "the safest place in the Americas."

With all those caveats in place, in a country where economic growth and job generation has been anemic for years, tourism is one bright spot in the economy.