El Salvador Weekly: Tourism Minister Says Bitcoins Led to Spike in Visitors

It’s hard to know whether they were spending bitcoins or dollars, but the amount tourists spent in El Salvador spiked to pre-pandemic numbers, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In its Aug. 1 World Tourism Barometer report, the UNWTO listed El Salvador as one of 16 countries, ranging from Saint Lucia and the Seychelles to Mexico and Portugal where which international tourism receipts have fully recovered their pre-pandemic levels.

Spending is up 81%, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The World Bank put the number of international tourism arrivals in El Salvador at 2.6 million in 2019 and 707,000 in 2020. A Ministry of Tourism told a local radio station that there were 1.2 million tourists in 2021 and 1.1 million in the first six months of 2022, up almost 83%, Cointelegraph reported.

Those numbers can be interpreted in several ways, particularly given that bitcoin’s price — and spending power — is down almost 50% this year at current prices of about $23,000. One way is that most of the tourists were using dollars to see spending rise that much. Another is that bitcoin tourism picked up a whole lot.

In February, El Salvador Tourism Minister Morena Valdez said that bitcoin adoption had increased tourism by 30%. That ran counter to a July 17 report in The Washington Post that said bitcoin hadn’t increased tourism and merchants were no longer accepting it due to lack of use.

See also: El Salvador Weekly: Morgan Stanley Says Buy El Salvador Bonds (at 28 Cents on the Dollar)

Fired up

The country still intends to issue its long-delayed billion-dollar bitcoin bond, Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya told Bloomberg on July 28.

Arguing that the use of cryptocurrency has brought financial services to the unbanked and attracted both tourists and investors, Zelaya called for more patience.

“We aren’t going to have results overnight. We can’t go to bed poor and wake up millionaires,” he said. “New technologies have shown how people in previous years were afraid of things like websites and digital business, but it’s been shown through time that reality imposes itself.”

Bitcoin, he added is “a phenomenon that exists and is gaining ground and will continue to be around in the coming years.”

Along with the so-called “volcano bonds” El Salvador is still planning to move ahead with its Bitcoin City, which includes at least partially geothermal-powered bitcoin mining on the slope of a volcano.

However, that apparently is not the only bitcoin mining operation in the planning stages. Residents of the Chalatenango region are up in arms over plans for a solar power farm that would be used to power bitcoin mining, according to La Prensa Grafica, a local news outlet.

The $200 million plan was approved at the federal level without the necessary environmental permits, according to the mayor of a nearby town, Nueva Concepción. Locals have asked the municipality to study the possible environmental impacts, it added.


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