Photo: Katie Hammel Feature Photo: BlogMama

How travel warnings are hurting Honduras, and why you should think about ignoring them.

According to news coverage in the United States, there has been a rash of political unrest in Honduras.

These media outlets use words like “rife with economic inequality and corruption” and “violent crime” to describe Honduras, a country not much bigger than the state of Virginia. They note that “the political crisis (has) created turmoil inside Honduras.”

In response, the United States issued a travel alert to the country in July 2009 and the United Kingdom did the same, warning against all non-essential travel in the country due to the ongoing political crisis. Though the U.S. lifted its travel alert on December 8 of this year, the UK continues to advise citizens against visiting Honduras.

Photo: Abouid

Stop the common man on the street in Honduras, however, and he’ll tell you that the situation is far from what’s being described in our news.

Yes, the military made a mistake, which resulted in much of the Western world to advise against travel to the country. Yes, there is graffiti covering the outside of buildings in San Pedro Sulas and Tegucigalpa, but that’s the work of only a small handful of people. And yes, there may be some political unrest, but there has been very minimal bloodshed.

My goal here is not to argue semantics and the power of words with anyone, nor is it to pit he said against she said. Rather, I’d like to share my personal experience with what’s happening in Honduras today. I was in the country on a press trip in early November, and this is what I saw:

People going about their daily lives.

And any present unrest is certainly not targeted toward visitors to the country.

Outside of the political and business capitals in Honduras, there is no sign that anything is out of the ordinary at all.

“One thing is what has been said in the media internationally, but what’s actually going on in the country is another thing, and it is pretty normal,” says Norma Rosales, commercialization officer for the Honduras Institute of Tourism. “Our lives have continued just as they have over the years.”
With the recent and current travel warnings and (I’m assuming) people fearing the worse about the country, I also noticed something else:

The beaches are bare. The restaurants are empty. The hotels are vacant.

And, as a result, the country is suffering … a lot.

Tourism is the largest employer in Honduras, and the industry generated $630.8 million in 2008. While the industry has grown steadily over the past few years—a 19.1% increase in total visitors from 2007 to 2008—Honduras is bracing for 3.6% decrease this year (compared to the expected 6.6% increase).

Though the worsening global economy can be blamed for some of the drop, the political situation in the country and its portrayal in the media probably have something to do with the fact that some hospitality businesses that had five employees are now getting by on only one.

In a country that has to compete with the likes of Costa Rica and Belize, travel warnings issued by Western countries can destroy income that so many people in the country reply upon.

Here is my concern: When people are unemployed, they have to find a way to feed their families. A variety of studies across the world have shown that, while violent crime doesn’t increase with the rate of unemployment, petty crime—theft, burglary and larceny—does. Perhaps we shouldn’t be worried about whether Honduras is a safe place to visit now, but whether the lack of tourism will result in it becoming the place the Western media has already made it out to be?

Don’t get me wrong. I like personal service at a restaurant and miles of Caribbean shoreline all to myself, but it shouldn’t be at the hands of travel warnings that scare, rather than inform, the general public. Take from the recent news coverage and advisories what you want, but here’s my request to you: Do your research and look beyond the mainstream Western publications for information about what’s going on in Honduras—or any country against which travel warnings have been issued.

And if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to some of the more popular Central American countries, I highly recommend Honduras. In order to get people back in the country, many places are offering steep discounts and low season prices during high season times.

And, just to dispel any concerns that I’m giving lip service to Honduras because I visited the country on a press trip, I’m not. In fact, I’m already scouring airfare to make a return trip with my husband. When countries are worthy of visiting, they get my attention.