El Salvador - Country Commercial Guide
Travel and Tourism

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-11-05

Overview

The number of Salvadoran visitors to the United States steadily increased in the years prior to the pandemic. In 2020, the El Salvador International Airport was closed for commercial flights from March through September; resulting in a total of 61,329 Salvadorans visiting the U.S. during the year, a decrease of 73.4% compared to 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO). However, in 2021 tourists are slowly gaining confidence in traveling with biosecurity measures, and as of July 2021, the total visitation of Salvadorans to the U.S. reached 97,392, a 223.8% increase compared to the previous year.

California, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Texas are common destinations due to the large Salvadoran communities in those cities. Florida, New York, Illinois, and Nevada are visited for leisure and business purposes. The most common activities for Salvadorans visiting the United States are amusement parks, sightseeing in cities, dining in restaurants, visiting museums, and shopping. Peak season for Salvadorans traveling to the U.S. are Easter week, San Salvador Feasts (first week of August), and Christmas/New Year’s.

CEPA, the government agency responsible for operating the airport, has a modernization project to improve the airport facilities and to open five new gates by the second half of 2021.

Several U.S. carriers have been flying to El Salvador for over 25 years and have continued to invest and demonstrate a long-term commitment to this market. The pandemic negatively impacted the industry, but also created opportunities as new direct routes were opened in 2020.  American Airlines, United, and Delta offer direct flights to gateway cities and connections to the rest of the United States. These airlines fly directly to Miami, Dallas, Houston, New Jersey, New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Spirit offers direct flights to Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Baltimore, and Orlando. In April 2021, the low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines started operations in El Salvador with direct flights to Miami.

Competition for U.S. carriers is significant, particularly from Avianca, a Colombian airline, which is the market leader, offering nine ports of entry to the United States: Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Virginia, New York, and Ontario, California, its most recent direct route.   

Aeromexico (Mexico) and Copa Airlines (Panama) offer connections to different U.S. cities through their hubs in Mexico City and Panama respectively.  The Mexican low-cost airline, Volaris, also offers flights to U.S. destinations.

In November 2018, United Airlines announced a joint business agreement (JBA) with COPA and Avianca, which will provide travelers from Central America codeshare flight options and new nonstop routes to the U.S. The JBA is still pending approval from the U.S. government.

In El Salvador, there are approximately 12 wholesale operators (issuer and receptive), of which four have a strong emphasis in promoting travel to the United States. Due to the size of the market, the main wholesale operators also manage their own travel agencies for retail purposes.  The Salvadoran Authorized Travel Agencies Association (AVA) brings together all the travel agencies authorized by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). There are approximately 28 members in AVA. However, since there is no law that regulates the establishment of a travel agency in the market, tour operators estimate that there are approximately 200 agencies in the market (the majority micro to small size companies). Some airlines operating in the market worked together under the umbrella of the Salvadoran Association of Airlines (ASLA), which was recreated in 2018.

Wholesale operators are the main distribution channel in the market and it’s important to establish a close relationship, offer new travel products, high level of service, and provide marketing material (preferably in Spanish) to increase sales. Although internet access is available, printed material (brochures, magazines, travel guides, maps, and press kits) is still preferred by travel agents and travelers.

Social media has become an important tool to engage and connect with clients. Facebook is the preferred platform among travel agencies and to promote cheap tickets, tour packages, and to increase their sales.

Leading Sub-Sectors

  • Shopping
  • Theme Parks/Amusement
  • Outdoor activities
  • National Parks/Monuments
  • Entertainment and cultural activities: sports events, music concerts, museums

Opportunities

The U.S. Commercial Service in El Salvador actively promotes the United States as a tourism destination. Recent activities include recruiting delegations to the travel and tourism trade event IPW, supporting local tourism operators with their promotion activities of U.S. destinations, providing targeted destination presentations, organizing familiarization trips to the United States, and facilitating communication with U.S. destinations, attractions, and service suppliers. In addition, the U.S. Commercial Service coordinates education seminars to travel agencies on the U.S. visa application process and entry procedures. Representatives of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security provide the training.

To be successful in El Salvador, U.S. tourism suppliers should educate travel agents about their services through seminars or outreach events organized by travel associations, tour operators or the U.S. Embassy. Considering the limited resources that direct marketing organizations face today, the U.S. Commercial Service can organize training sessions through webinars, allowing U.S. Convention and Visitors Bureaus, and travel and tourism suppliers to promote their destinations and services without traveling to El Salvador.

U.S. companies looking to meet with Salvadoran tour operators may consider attending or participating in the following events: 

  • IPW: The largest travel and tourism trade event organized by the U.S. Travel Association, where more than 1,200 foreign buyers gather to conduct business meetings with U.S. tourism and travel organizations. For IPW dates and locations visit the U.S. Travel Association. 
  • Go West Summit: Organized by International Tourism Marketing Inc., a leading travel show that gathers U.S. suppliers of 13 Western States (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).

Resources

  • National Trade and Tourism Office (NTTO)
  • U.S. Travel Association
  • Go West Summit
  • Comisión Ejecutiva Portuaria Autónoma-CEPA
  • Authorized Travel Agencies Association (AVA)
  • Salvadoran Association of Airlines (ASLA)

Interested parties may contact Commercial Specialist Lidia Sosa at Lidia.Sosa@trade.gov