The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $106 million loan to help El Salvador’s tourism industry rebound and grow. The operation is designed to make the sector more competitive by increasing per-visitor spending, creating new jobs, and reducing gender gaps among its workers. It also aims to make the country’s tourist destinations more environmentally sustainable.
El Salvador has major tourist attractions, especially natural ones, which have driven a thriving industry. From 2011 to 2019, tourism accounted for over 17.9% of the country’s exports and provided 31,360 direct jobs. This in turn enhanced the quality of life of thousands of Salvadoran families, many of whom were living in vulnerable circumstances. To avoid putting El Salvador’s tourism industry in permanent jeopardy, which would undermine the country’s economic outlook and the quality of life of its citizens, it is crucial to improve the industry’s environmental sustainability and climate resilience.
El Salvador needs good land-use planning for its destinations, a system of environmental laws governing key aspects like coastal management, and solutions for gaps in access to drinking water or solid waste management services, all of which are among the aspects this program aims to address.
This IDB operation will enable strategic investments in resilient public infrastructure, with a particular focus on the elements most exposed to the ravages of climate change. It will also fund the design and implementation of vital environmental sustainability programs. For example, it provides resources for building ecological waterfronts; for restoring critical ecosystems and preserving them in an inclusive way (including a program to reclaim and protect mangrove forests in eastern El Salvador); and for developing environmental sustainability plans for tourist destinations and environmental certifications for beaches.
The program will expand and improve seven drinking water systems and four wastewater treatment systems. It also plans to bolster security services for tourists through investments like street lighting, lifeguard posts, and signs at destinations and along access routes.
The operation will also help make the country’s tourism business ecosystem more productive and resilient. For this goal, the program includes several instruments meant to strengthen the industry’s human capital and improve tourism products, all while mainstreaming gender and fostering accessible tourism.
Studies show that women in El Salvador’s tourist industry have higher educational gaps than women in other industries. Also, women make up 60% of the workforce for tourism, but only 36% hold managerial positions. To advance gender equality and accessible tourism in the country, the program’s technical and financial assistance, and industry-based training will prioritize enterprises and investments that address these aspects.
The program also aims to modernize the sector by creating the conditions for adopting new information and communication technologies and upgrading the technological and software infrastructure of government agencies related to tourism.
All these steps will improve quality of life in El Salvador. It is estimated that the program will benefit over 960,000 people, counting tourism industry workers and their families.
About the IDB
The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social, and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance, and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.
Olga Gómez García
Project team leader