I did my best to present myself as an ambassador to Honduras in my travels, chatting up the beautiful sights I've seen here while assuring my fellow travelers that despite the scary statistics, the country is a warm and friendly place. It's also much cheaper than Belize, and the snorkeling and diving in the Bay Islands is at least comparable if not better than around the cayes of Belize's Caribbean coast. Honduras has monkeys, birds, nurse sharks, even manatees, just like Belize. It's got miles and miles of untouched beaches. But Honduran towns dreaming of tourism dollars definitely need to take a leaf from the Belize tourism book in learning how to promote themselves better and package their offerings in new and appealing ways. (Why, for instance, do all the horse rides in Copán Ruinas only go to La Pintada, which is actually a pretty depressing little introduction to the culture?)
Here in the Copán region, there are a lot of interesting things to do if you speak Spanish, know who to ask, and can make your way around by bus without being frightened off by aggressive bus touts who all seem to be shoving you onto a bus that you're not sure you want to be on. But in a Belize tourist town, all a person has to do is walk down any main street to find any info they need right there at handy-dandy kiosks smack-dab in the centre of town, all with beautiful promotional material and calm, English-speaking tour drivers.
Speaking of English, Honduras needs more. I love the Spanish language and agree wholeheartedly with the principle that a country's citizens should have the right to speak whatever language they like in their own homeland. But it's just a reality that any country hoping to score tourists needs to have way more English. I know Honduras wants a more vibrant tourist economy, and doing more to help its citizens communicate in more than one language has to be part of that. And of course, the Honduran government needs to play a much more active role on all fronts. You're never going to convince travelers that Honduras is safe in the absence of a clear plan to reduce violence. It's true that virtually all the violence in the country is directed at Hondurans and not foreigners, but that's a fairly small point to be trying to make to a nervous traveler poised to fly into "the most dangerous city in the world" to begin their sun vacation.
Without sufficient tourists, tourism-based business is scared to invest. Without tourism-based business, the tourists won't come. Fewer tourists mean fewer people saying good things about Honduras, and more people thinking the country is too dangerous to visit. Something's got to give. The government also has to be out there responding to the terrifying travel advisories. The alarming advisories definitely don't reflect the lived experience in Honduras, but how is anyone supposed to know that if the government never responds to any of the advisories and just leaves people to presume that all the horror stories must be true?
So yeah, Belize is beautiful. So is Honduras. But until something meaningful happens to turn around the scare statistics, who's going to know that? (1/12/14) (photo of couple of Leona park in Tegucigalpa courtesy Internet)
Note: The author is a former journalist from Canada. She currently lives in the town of Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and volunteers with Cuso International, a Canadian development agency that matches skilled professionals to organizations in developing countries. She writes a blog called A Closer Look.