MANAGUA, Nicaragua – As Costa Rica continuesto befuddle and infuriate foreigners withits plans to legislate strict new residency requirements,Nicaragua appears to be putting outcookies and milk as a welcome gesture.By unanimous vote of 64-0, Nicaragua’sNational Assembly this week approved the newTourism Law, which, among other things, simplifiesresidency requirements for expatriates.The law passed Wednesday will institutionalize thecountry’s budding tourism sector and streamline residencyprocedures under the authority of the NicaraguanTourism Institute (INTUR).“We have seen the experience of Costa Rica (withforeign residency), and we want to do something different.We are going to open all the doors; we will neverput in jeopardy the person who wants to come live herewith a monthly check of $400,” INTUR’s Ian Coroneltold The Tico Times this week.TO apply for residency in Nicaragua, foreignretirees over 45 must prove they receive monthly pensionchecks of at least $400.In Costa Rica, the Legislative Assembly is debatinga bill that could potentially raise the minimum residencyrequirement for retirees from the current $600 to$3,000 a month – an amount that would preclude most people, critics charge (TT, June 11).Coronel says INTUR is studying proposalsto offer greater incentives to wealthierresidency applicants in Nicaragua, butexplains they hope to “open all doors” withoutshutting out lower-income hopefuls.INTUR is also opening a new, multilingualPublic Attention Office in Managuato answer residency questions and facilitateall paperwork – free of charge.The office, scheduled to open inINTUR’s downtown office next month,will put “a human face on residency procedures,”Coronel says.ABOVE all, the new law aims to providean institutionalized professionalism tothe tourism sector, which is identified inArticle 1 as a developmental priority forthe country.Designating tourism as a “generalinterest” to Nicaragua is considered importantbecause it is backed by lawmakersfrom both the conservative LiberalConstitutional Party and the left-wingSandinista National Liberation Front – twoparties that traditionally can’t agree onwhat time lunch is.One of the biggest boosters of the lawis Sandinista hardliner and president of thecongressional tourism commission TomásBorge, the number two party leader behindsecretary general Daniel Ortega.The backing of the Sandinista leadershipprovides continuity to the tourism sectorand foreign-residency requirements,even if the former revolutionary partyreturns to power in 2006 (TT, July 2) – aprospect that still worries investors whoremember the land confiscations during the1980s.THE 96-article law, which took threeyears to draft and includes input from privateand public sectors, is a progressive and thoroughdocument that will act as umbrella legislationfor the tourism industry.Although not intended to be an “incentivelaw,” it clearly lays out the rights andobligations of the government, tour operatorsand tourists – including the elderly andtravelers with special needs.The law also spells out the importantrole that entertainment and nationaltourism play in the developmental role ofall citizens, regardless of income level.Chapter Seven of the law calls for thepromotion of what it calls “SocialTourism,” or cultural and recreationalactivities for low-income Nicaraguan citizensin a country where 50% of all familieslive below the poverty line. The law createsmechanisms to encourage tourismoperators to gear activities toward theimpoverished national market.THE law also aims to take a lot of theguesswork out of choosing a restaurant,hotel or tour operator by implementing anew rating system for all companiesinvolved in the tourism sector.Using a system similar to the internationalfive-star rating system used forhotels, INTUR will begin issuing integratedratings based on facilities, cleanliness,service, food quality and accounting procedures,among other considerations. Theestablishment’s rating will be displayed ona plaque in a visible area.“Tourists come here and eat atMcDonalds because they don’t know aboutany of the local restaurants. This willchange that,” Colonel said.TOURISM businesses will also benefitfrom the new legislation, INTURinsists.The new law calls for an increase in theministry’s budget – currently based on percentagesof income generated from tourism– and stipulates that 60% of its annual budgetwill be spent on marketing and promotion.Increased promotion, such as the recent$150,000 ad campaign on CNN (TT, May21), will translate into more profits for theprivate sector, INTUR says.The law also qualifies all tourism-relatedbusinesses as part of the “industrial sector,”making said companies eligible – forthe first time – for reductions in electricityand water bills.
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