SAN SALVADOR "“ The government's heightened security efforts have substantially contributed to boost U.S. travel to this Central American nation, asserted El Salvador's Minister of Tourism, Ruben Rochi.

A study conducted by the World Tourism Organization shows that the number of visitors to El Salvador increased by 17 percent in 2006, compared to the previous year.

Rochi attributes this growth to the government's 2014 National Tourism Plan, which includes holistic measures to ensure a safer environment to both locals and foreign visitors.

This year, the number of U.S. tourists traveling to El Salvador has increased by 24 percent and the number of Canadians by 51 percent, said Rochi. Additionally, international visitors' average daily spending has increased from $91.30 in 2005 to $93.90 in 2006 due to an increase in daily consumption, as well as in the number of days per visit, which is averaging 6 to 7.3 days.

"There is no doubt in my mind that El Salvador's safer environment has had a positive impact on tourism," said Rochi. "The government has implemented various measures destined to increase tourism, including the establishment of a larger, better-trained and better equipped security force charged with assisting visitors."

"We have put into place a series of security mechanisms to ensure the safety of tourists who visit our country," says Rene Figueroa, Minister of Security. "To date, we have not had any incidents involving tourists. Regardless we continue with our commitment to ensure "safe tourism" as this segment is key to increasing the country's growth and development."

"The idea is to change the erroneous perception that our country has been taken hostage by gangs," said Figueroa. "That is far from the truth. This phenomenon only impacts 15 of the 262 municipalities, similarly to the situation experienced by the city of New York,"

Additionally, Figueroa explained how President Antonio Saca's "Social Peace" initiative, a holistic program which involves several of the country's public institutions working together, has reduced homicides by 8 percent compared to last year, according to a report by the National Civil Police (PNC).

According to Figueroa, these figures demonstrate the government's commitment to combat crime through its "Social Peace" initiative.

"This initiative focuses on implementing preventive measures that reduce the level of violence and increase peace and tranquility in the country," added Figueroa.

The Economist magazine's Global Peace Index placed El Salvador as the third most peaceful country in Central America. The index takes into consideration 24 factors including access to fire arms, military budgets, corruption levels and respect for human rights.

"El Salvador is once again emerging as an exotic tourist destination," said Rochi. "Even our own Salvadorians, who live in the United States and have not visited the country in a long period of time, are surprised by all of the positive changes that have taken place since they last visited the country."

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