This has enabled tourism integration.
Making tourism visible in the policies and economies of countries has been a challenge at the global level, which persists to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the development of each country. At the regional level, this challenge has been twofold, since it has involved doing so at the national level and then extrapolating it to the regional level. In this respect, it can be indicated that, at the political level, this has resulted in 24 years in 33 mandates or declarations, addressed in ten Meetings of Presidents. There have also been six resolutions or recommendations of the Central American Parliament in 21 years and one resolution in 2003 of the Forum of Presidents of the Central American Legislative Powers.
In addition, tourism integration entities have signed more than ten cooperation agreements with regional and extra-regional entities such as the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and the International Social Tourism Organisation (OITS).
From the point of view of tourism development, SITCA and CATA have implemented several projects with funds from Spain, Japan, Taiwan and the European Union. This has allowed for the creation of the Central American Integrated Seal of Quality and Sustainability (SICCS), the provision and transfer of technology for the geo-referencing of tourist attractions, the creation of regional routes, the strengthening of statistics, their standardisation and support for the creation of tourism satellite accounts, among others.
In terms of promotion and marketing, the region has made progress in the creation of a solid platform through CATA, creating catalogues aimed at intra-regional tourism and the European market, carrying out studies of the best prospects for the products of the eight countries. It has also consolidated its marketing tools, such as press and familiarisation trips, sales seminars for wholesalers and the largest meeting with the trade and specialised press at the Central America Travel Market (CATM), which combines pre- and post-tours with two days of business meetings.
What remains to be done.
Like any process, tourism integration, whether seen from the public or private sector, has had its ups and downs, successes and failures. I can say without fear of contradiction that, in spite of this, it has been a process that has served as an example to mature national tourism management and has demonstrated to the rest of the sectors in the region that tourism is a sector that, although vulnerable, is solid, resilient and united. It has been able to gain political space in integration, as well as credibility in its institutions and with international cooperation.
However, the challenges it still faces are:
Increasing the visibility of the sector and its needs in the different policies and strategies of the rest of the regional bodies.
Strengthening regional public and private institutions to improve their capacity for management, coordination and wider implementation of actions.
Greater use of the opportunities of tourism integration processes and projects by national governing bodies.
Shielding agreements between regional and national bodies and entities from the dynamics of changes in technical and political leadership.
In terms of the competitiveness of regional tourism, the main challenge is to make travel and tourism more accessible, through less costly air transport services and with fewer migratory procedures and formalities.
For MSMEs, the latent challenge is the digitalisation of their processes and marketing.
With regard to marketing, the Central American brand should be more widely disseminated at the international level, and the public and private tourism and non-tourism sectors should take greater ownership of it.
Strengthen market intelligence that allows for a better selection of market niches towards which marketing efforts should be directed.
As in all entities, access to funding from public, private and international cooperation sources is essential to accelerate the implementation of plans and future policy.
And most importantly, to make all these efforts visible and palpable in the tourism MSMEs and the value chain, in the host communities and in the Central American and Dominican Republic population.
Juan Pablo Nieto Cotera