Ever since we suffered through Hurricane Mitch the island and its people have had difficulty recovering. The island suffered great damage to the mangrove areas, the honey bee population was literally wiped out, the yellow-naped Amazon parrot population was reduced, a huge loss to the palm and Caribbean pine trees occurred, and, in general, a loss of many natural habitats.
For people, it was the loss of homes, jobs, food and lives. Recovery was a long, slow process and it took years for the island to rebuild. Businesses were affected; many were unable to rebuild and those that attempted eventually failed and are still closed.
Over the years prior to Mitch, tourism was a lucrative business and one which supplied the island with a source of income. This was especially important as the fishing industry processing plants closed and fishing became more and more difficult with less and less product available. However, with the onslaught of Mitch, tourism dropped way off and has never regained in strength.
Just when we thought we might have a handle on tourism, along came the problem generated by ex-President Mel Zelaya. Unfortunately this President did not have his countries' interests at heart and, in general, was a self-serving individual who cared little about the people and what his actions did to their country. The business of tourism dropped to almost zero and we are still struggling to convince the "outside" world that coming to Guanaja is not only safe but a rewarding experience.
To add to this problem, we have had increases in air fare and less service available. What use to take no time at all in travel, now has been extended by hours and even an extra day. When tourists have either a week, 10 day or 2-week vacation, the addition of a day or two on each end of that time for travel cuts into vacation time and so, as a result, people do not want to sacrifice their time and go elsewhere.
We once had 4 airlines on the island at the peak of the industry. At this point in time, prices skyrocketed and remained high. Maybe some of it was warranted because of fuel prices, airport fees, maintenance. However, people coming here look at the cheap fares offered to take them thousands of miles and compare this to the high airfares to fly to the islands and they do not make the trip.
At least on the Mainland one has a choice. You can go by various buses, taxi, vans, or rental cars from one city to the next. The prices vary and all are within reason. It is only air travel that is outrageously high.
Even when the fares from Guanaja to the Mainland are reduced to entice people to use a new airline, schedules are erratic and the final result is that it costs one more time and money to make a short trip.
Case in point. For years we could take an airplane from Guanaja to La Ceiba departing about 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Ceiba in time to do the shopping we required, have lunch, make doctor appointments and return in one day. The only hang up in the one-day trip at that time was that all stores closed at noon and did not open again until 1:30 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. Since one had to be back at the airport at approximately 2:30 p.m. for the 3:30 p.m. flight, this cut into time available. But, at least it was workable.
Now, we no longer have early morning flights and even those that promise to leave by 8:15 or 8:30 a.m. do not leave until 9:30, 10, or 11 a.m.! There is no way to know what time the flight will leave and, thus, making appointments for the same day on the Mainland is impossible. One must stay overnight and hope that all appointments can be dealt with the next day before the magic hour of 2:00 p.m. when you must return to the airport. So, now, beside the high air fare, we must spend money on a hotel room, food and tips.
The clincher came when none of the airlines leaving the island now go on to San Pedro Sula. The only airline available for that service is Taca and they only have one morning flight that MAYBE can be met when leaving the island. It leaves at 9:35 a.m.
To return from San Pedro, you must now leave that city in the afternoon, fly to Roatan (of all places) and then turn around and go on to La Ceiba. Since this flight leaves at 4:00 p.m. with arrival in La Ceiba at about 6 p.m., it means you cannot return to the island in one day from San Pedro as in the past.
Even if you want to take a bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro it leaves at 10 a.m. and if the plane is late, you cannot get another bus until 2 p.m., if it is not full. There is an early evening bus, but again, whatever you have to do in San Pedro will now take more time and money. One can take a van or taxi but at a cost of $120.00 compared to a $15.00 3-hour bus ride, the math shows that this is sometimes not a choice for people.
We have a new airline on the island, Aviac, which flies a C-47 (known also as a DC-3) and while for a short time (especially Easter) they were leaving at about 8:15 a.m., now it is anybodies guess as to when they will depart. They may leave at 9:30 or 10 a.m., even later. Any one of these times will cause you to miss a flight on to San Pedro or a bus. Sosa leaves at 10, 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. and sometimes later. So, by the time you make it to La Ceiba, the stores are closing and you cannot do anything until 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon!
My husband and I recently attempted to go to La Ceiba in the hopes of getting to San Pedro by mid-day so I could make a 4 p.m. doctor appointment. I discovered we could only connect with Taca on the 9:35 a.m. flight and hoped that the promised flight departure time from the island would be accurate.
Besides being late and not getting to La Ceiba until almost 10 a.m., thus missing our connection, we had to wait almost 30 minutes on the ground for our luggage. The plane landed, we disembarked and went to retrieve our luggage. After 10 minutes we noticed no activity around the plane and when inquiries were made we were informed that Aviac had only one person to unload and, evidently, he was not around. An attempt was made to find an Aviac agent but that proved fruitless as there was none present at the airport! When the luggage finally made it to the carousel, the outside door was locked and someone had to go find a key! So, with all of that, we had missed our connecting flight and missed the chance to take a bus.
I later learned that another couple leaving Guanaja for La Ceiba on Aviac arrived too late for the morning bus and when they attempted to take the 2:00 p.m. bus, it was full. Their 8:30 a.m. flight from the island did not leave until noon and, so, they were too late getting there to obtain a seat on the San Pedro bus.
We have even experienced cancelled flights simply because not enough people had booked. Of course the agents do not want to tell you that but will tell you "the airport is closed in Guanaja," or "there is a problem at the Guanaja airport," or "there is a problem with our plane." They back down when it is pointed out that the first two are not true as you have just left Guanaja and the last they cannot explain away because they cannot tell you what is wrong.
I know that Honduras operates on the Mañana theory and you have no choice but to accept that's the way things work. However, if this country ever wants to attract businesses or tourists, they are going to have to pick up the pace and get with the rest of the world as to on-time travel, keeping appointments, and taking responsibility for the services they supposedly offer. By not offering on-time services or the opportunity to obtain flights from one city to the next, tourists are not going to return. And, in my opinion, this country needs tourism as it has little else to offer to attract income for its people.