MANAGUA – The prolonged “Survivor drum roll” that has crescendoed for the past five months will end in a cymbal crash on Sept. 15, when the popular reality show airs its season premiere on CBS, making Nicaragua a part of U.S. pop culture for some 13 million viewers.
Though the Emmy-award winning season is entering its 21st season, it has still managed to create a buzz – translating into lots of media exposure for Nicaragua.
“Since CBS announced that Survivor would be filming in Nicaragua, ProNicaragua has received a significant amount of inquiries from international reporters wanting to follow up on the show’s development and wanting to know more about the country in general,” said Javier Chamorro, executive director of the investment promotion agency ProNicaragua.
Chamorro said that since May, “an estimated 2,400 articles have been published in prestigious national and international media outlets” about Survivor Nicaragua.
Once the show airs, he added, “We expect a greater boom in media exposure for the country.”
And it’s not just the media that’s taking note of Nicaragua. As expected, Survivor’s decision to film here has provided a major brand-name stamp of approval for Nicaragua – one that production crews for other programs are taking note of.
In fact, Tourism Minister Mario Salinas told The Nica Times last week that the government of Nicaragua is in the process of finalizing a deal with a second major U.S. reality TV show that is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
“There are other reality shows that have contacted us and it is very possible that one of them will come here,” Salinas said. “It’s still a state secret which one, but it will be announced very soon. It’s one of the big ones.”
Salinas said that the format of the soon-to-be-announced reality show also lends itself to showcasing Nicaragua’s natural beauty and tourism offerings.
Folks in the private sector are also talking about an uptick in interest in Nicaragua riding on Survivor’s coattails.
“There is another production company wanting to speak with us and the interest from tour companies has picked up,” said Kirk Hankla, managing partner of San Juan del Sur’s Pelican Eyes Resort, which is housing many of the Survivor production crew.
And all this has happened before the show even hits the air. Starting next week, the Nicaragua buzz is expected to grow even louder.
“The premiere of this show is expected to boost tourist arrivals and generate an interest of other reality shows to film in Nicaragua, as images of the country circle the world,” said ProNicaragua’s Chamorro. “We already have a few European shows interested in Nicaragua, and it is evident why.”
The showcasing of Nicaragua is also expected to attract potential investors seeking business and eco-tourism opportunities, ProNicaragua’s Chamorro predicts.
According to government statistics for the first semester of 2010, tourism in Nicaragua has increased by 9.7 percent, while tourism investment – $180.8 million over the first six months of the year – is up 11.8 percent this year.
The Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR) estimates that Nicaragua will receive 1 million tourists this year for the first time ever, and tourism investment will reach $400 million.
“Survivor is just the beginning for Nicaragua,” Chamorro says optimistically. “We are confident our exposure on the show, along with the efforts of INTUR, ProNicaragua and other public and private institutions, will help position the country as the up-and-coming tourism destination in the region.”
The Mood in San Juan
Meanwhile, in San Juan del Sur, attitudes about the program vary, depending mostly on whether people see the production as a nuisance or recieve a direct economic benefit.
“Ask five people what they think about the show, and you’ll get five different answers,” said Justin Fahey, of Aurora Beachfront Realty in San Juan del Sur. “Some people hate it, some love it, and most are somewhere in the middle.”
Though many local businesses are benefiting to some degree from the $6 million Survivor is injecting into the local economy, surfers and fishermen have complained of restricted beach access during filming.
Still, most people seem to think that the potential long-term benefits that Survivor may have on tourism, investment and public relations will far outweigh any short-term inconveniences.
“In terms of image,” Fahey said; “I think in the future people will look back on the show as a landmark event in the country’s transition from late 20th century Cold War battleground to 21st century vacation destination.”