San Juan del Sur: Once Sleepy Beach

May 12, 2006

SAN JUAN DEL SUR – Note to tourists: if

your guidebook still refers to San Juan del

Sur as a “sleepy little beach town,” it’s time to

buy a newer, updated edition.

Over the past few years, this Pacific coastal

hub of investment and tourism has developed

so quickly that witnessing it is a bit like

looking at time-lapse photography.

Every year, up go new hotels, restaurants

and enormous cliff-top homes.

In the past five years, 35 new tourism businesses

have popped up, and construction

loans for small and medium-sized businesses

have increased by 97%, according to a recent

survey conducted by investment research and

consulting group Calvet & Associates.

With an additional 50-plus tourism investment

projects (hotels, condos, residential

communities) developing up and down

the Pacific coast, San Juan del Sur’s growth

spurt is only just beginning at age 153.

To keep up with the emergent demands

that tourism is putting on the town, San

Juan del Sur is trying to grab the steering

wheel and set a due course after several

years of being heaved about by unregulated

growth.

A new building code passed earlier this

year factors in new environmental considerations

and caps construction at 13 meters at

the building’s highest point; but already

there are efforts afoot to improve and refine

the codes.

A forthcoming Coastal Law will further

regulate construction (see separate story).

New Blueprints Need Funding

Some of the plans for San Juan del Sur are

fairly lofty, such as a massive blueprint to

reconstruct the whole south side of town

with a new oceanfront park, hotel, boardwalk

and marketplace with boutiques, bars

and restaurants inside the old warehouses

near the new fishing wharf.

The plan, aimed at preserving the town’s

quaint feel and cultural flair, also calls for

the reconstruction of the church and Central

Park.

Eduardo Holmann, mayor of San Juan del

Sur, said his municipal government is

crunching the numbers to calculate the bottom

line. Once that math is double-checked,

they’ll hit the pavement later this month to

look for funding from international donors,

he said.

“We’ve got the master plan that we are

promoting, but this will all depend on

whether we can raise the money,” Holmann

told The Nica Times.

If all goes according to plan, Holmann

hopes the remodeling and restoration project

can start as early as the end of this year.

New Business Plan

San Juan del Sur this month also unveiled its new business-development plan, conducted by Calvet & Associates with input from area residents, businesses and tourists.

The concept of the plan, according to company president Raúl Calvet, is to foster healthy and inclusive economic growth in San Juan del Sur by encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to organize themselves to compete with larger tourism operations.

The plan also calls on the government to reinvest its increasing tax revenue in public infrastructure, which will lead to more investment and more tax revenue.

Calvet said the idea is to preserve San Juan del Sur’s cultural flavor. And the way to do that is to preserve and strengthen the small and medium-sized Nicaraguan-owned businesses – the guardians of local culture.

“We need to organize them to compete as businesses and not ask for help,” Calvet said.

“If we look at them as poor, that will only help to keep them in poverty. We need to help them organize and get together to do something bigger. If they do, they will be able to compete effectively because they know the market better than anyone else.”

In addition to setting up a training center to help the small and medium-sized businesses compete, the new business plan also calls for the creation of a municipal bond program to help these businesses finance growth and development.

Yet even without the business plan, many of the smaller, Nicaraguan-run businesses –the restaurants and bars facing the water –have improved vastly on their own in recent years, conforming more to standards of quality and cleanliness expected by foreign tourists, Calvet notes.

Growing Pains

One of the major growing-pain problems facing San Juan del Sur is increasing levels of crime, gangs and prostitution – most brought in from outside of town, according to residents.

San Juan del Sur currently has only 13 police officers. Mayor Holmann admits that citizen security is a major concern, and says he is lobbying the Ministry of the Interior for added budgetary and human resources.

“San Juan is viewed as a secondary town in population, but with all the tourists, we need to be viewed on par with Granada,” Holmann said.

Yet if the growing pains work themselves out, and the recent past can be used to extrapolate what’s to come, San Juan del Sur should be a major, international tourist destination within the next decade, Calvet predicts.

“I think there will be at least one, perhaps two major 100-plus-room hotels and lots of other tourism development – souvenir shops and grocery stores – spanning out along the main road into town,” he said.

“San Juan will be a place that tourists come to visit, and a place where (expatriates) living in nearby development communities will come into town for a good meal or entertainment.

 

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