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El Salvador Weekly: Tourism minister says bitcoins lead to visitors

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

In its August 1 World Tourism Barometer report, UNWTO listed El Salvador as one of 16 countries, ranging from St. Lucia and the Seychelles to Mexico and Portugal, where international tourism revenue has fully reached pre-pandemic levels have reached again.

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

These numbers can be interpreted in a number of ways, especially given that Bitcoin’s price — and purchasing power — is down nearly 50% this year at current prices hovering around $23,000. One possibility is that most tourists used dollars to see spending soar. Another reason is that Bitcoin tourism has increased significantly.

In February, El Salvador’s tourism minister, Morena Valdez, said that bitcoin adoption had boosted tourism by 30%. That contradicted a July 17 Washington Post report that said bitcoin had failed to boost tourism and that merchants were no longer accepting it due to lack of usage.

See also: El Salvador Weekly: Morgan Stanley recommends buying El Salvador bonds (at 28 cents on the dollar)

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

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

“We will not achieve results overnight. We can’t go to bed poor and wake up millionaires,” he said. “New technology has shown that in earlier years people were afraid of things like websites and digital stores, but time has shown that reality prevails.”

Bitcoin, he added, is “a phenomenon that exists and is gaining traction and will continue to exist for years to come.”

Alongside the so-called “volcanic bonds,” El Salvador still plans to advance its Bitcoin City, which includes at least partially geothermal bitcoin mining on the slope of a volcano.

However, this is apparently not the only bitcoin mining operation in the planning stages. According to La Prensa Grafica, a local news outlet, residents of the Chalatenango area are in turmoil over plans for a solar farm to be used for bitcoin mining.

The $200 million plan was approved at the federal level without the necessary environmental permits, according to the mayor of a nearby city, Nueva Concepción. Locals have asked the community to study the potential environmental impact, she added.

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