Anasha Campbell is Nicaragua’s Tourism Minister. Her goal is to showcase the unique Creole culture, stunning landscape and authentic way of life which are hallmarks of the country. Largely unknown as a tourist destination, Anasha is passionate about sharing the many advantages of spending time in Nicaragua with the rest of the world.
Childhood and early years
Anasha was born on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, in Bluefields, the region’s capital. Bluefields was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic place, with a strong Creole community. She was aware of her Creole heritage from very early childhood, gaining an enormous sense of pride in the Creole culture that existed not only in her family but also in the wider area. She recalls with affection the Creole Maypole ceremonies which took place in Bluefields, valuing the link with similar ceremonies in Europe and celebrating the European influences that help to shape the Creole culture and history.
From an early age, she realised that the way towards independence lay through education. After studying hard, she obtained a degree in International Relations and Commerce in 2008 from Nicaragua’s Catholic University. Following graduation, she continued her studies at a number of other institutions, gaining knowledge of topics such as strategic planning in tourism; regional integration; and social entrepreneurship responsibility. Anasha later studied at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, obtaining a doctorate degree in social sciences.
Initially, Anasha pursued a career in the Nicaraguan government ministry of foreign affairs, as an admin assistant in the Economic Relations and Cooperation Department. Her interest, affection and support for the Creole culture that she grew up in encouraged her to become more deeply involved in the activities of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community Organisation) at Nicaragua’s Foreign Office. She worked for CARICOM as an international policy specialist and representative until 2010, when the opportunity came to work in the tourism sector.
Career in tourism
During her time at CARICOM, Anasha gained greater knowledge and awareness of the richness and depth of the culture that exists along the Caribbean coast. With so many people in the area having Creole ancestry, the culture of the Caribbean part of Nicaragua is influenced by the European and African origins of many of its people. It is this diversity in customs, religion, language (Creole people speak patois – a mixture of languages which evolve into a stable, distinct, area-based dialect), food and values that helps to create the authentic ambience of the Caribbean area of Nicaragua. This heritage is shared by Anasha, which enabled her to bring a unique blend of skills, knowledge and dedication to her initial tourism role as the Director of Tourism for the Caribbean Region of Nicaragua and Representative to the Central American Tourism Council and to the Association of Caribbean States.
Her aim as the Director of Tourism for the region was to enhance the profile of the area as an attractive destination in order to promote economic development at the same time as ensuring that the culture and way of life remain unspoiled. This goal has remained constant through her time as Executive Vice-president of the Nicaraguan Tourism Board and Executive Secretary of the Central American Tourism Integration Secretariat (SITCA) until 2015, before her current appointment as Nicaragua’s Tourism Minister in August 2015. As Director of Tourism, she was very aware that the Caribbean region of Nicaragua was under-publicised and under-represented. One of her early objectives, stemming from her time at INTUR, was to change this. Speaking years later, as Minister for Tourism, she said, “So when I came to INTUR, I started as the director of Caribbean Coast, and one of my main objectives was giving more visibility to the Caribbean Coast. So most of all the brochures and information we have of the Caribbean Coast are things that I did when I was director…. when I went to the INTUR, there was absolutely no information, no brochure, no maps, no nothing of the Caribbean Coast. So I started from there. I guess I fell in love with the tourism industry.” Inspired by genuine affection for the area in which she had been born, as well as finding that she relished the challenges which planning and implementing a suitable tourism strategy throws up, her appointment to the Tourism Minister position is not a surprise.
When Anasha started in her post as Tourism Minister, she was well aware of how marginalised the Caribbean culture and community in Nicaragua was in comparison with the rest of the country. As she said, “… the Caribbean Coast was a historically marginalised area. So I remember back in the days when I came out of secondary school, high school, we made a trip to the Pacific. And it was impressive to go to San Juan del Sur and had people ask us if they needed a passport to travel to the Caribbean Coast… The Caribbean Coast of the country wasn’t that known then.”
Her goals as Minister of Tourism have broadly been to promote the Nicaraguan culture overseas, as well as open up the country to visitors, showcasing the intriguing heritage which she shares. One of Anasha’s strengths is her identification with, and love of, Creole culture. Recognising that the Creole culture exists not just in Nicaragua and the Americas, but also in Europe, Africa and in small pockets in many other countries, she is eager to establish links abroad. Her recent travels have taken her to Spain, promoting Nicaragua as a destination at the same time as forming relationships with the Spanish Creole community. She also works extensively with other government departments to ensure that tourism complements the developments and improvements which are already taking place in the country, providing important additional income and opportunities for future growth.
Overseas promotion of Nicaraguan culture and tourism
As well as encouraging people to visit Nicaragua and being instrumental in the development of publicity material to enhance awareness and visibility, she has also pro-actively worked to bring greater awareness of the country to overseas people. Nicaragua has a small embassy in London. Anasha intends to use this as a base from which to launch a number of events to boost awareness of Nicaragua, with particular emphasis on its culture and heritage. She cites the example of the Dominican Republic, who have adopted this approach in the UK, with considerable success. Activities already undertaken include a food-tasting event in London, which gave people the opportunity to try authentic Nicaraguan cuisine. Anasha has also conducted trips to Spain, building links in order to try to facilitate tourism to her home country and making links between the Creole culture in Europe and Nicaragua.
Future goals for Nicaraguan tourism
Ms Campbell has strived to bring focus and a planned approach to tourism and development in Nicaragua, particularly with respect to increasing the possibilities for air travel to the country from the US and the UK. She says, “…We don’t have a direct flight from Europe…We have limited flights from the U.S. We’re working to get a direct flight from Madrid. To get a direct flight from New York is very important. So, yes, we’re working on our marketing strategy for the U.S. and Europe. For many years we’ve just been shooting in the air, not focused. By next year we’ll have our marketing strategy finished…” A direct air link would make the country a more appealing holiday destination, potentially providing valuable foreign income to the domestic economy.
“Nicaragua is as Beautiful as Ever”
Preserving the current way of life, culture and landscape in Nicaragua, particularly along the Caribbean coast, at the same time as promoting the area as a tourist destination, remains extremely important to Anasha. The “Nicaragua is as beautiful as ever” campaign has been designed to show off the country’s outstanding natural beauty, much of which has remained undeveloped. With 7% of the world’s ecological diversity found in the country, as well as 72 protected areas and a number of national reserves, the country is a haven for exotic wildlife and landscapes.
A balance of tourism and authenticity
Using tourism as a tool to enhance local economies and communities, without destroying the unique culture and landscape is a major part of what makes Nicaragua such an attractive destination and is critical to Anasha’s goals as Tourism Minister. She says, “We’re trying to strike a balance… between those tourists who want a high-end vacation and those who want authenticity. Nicaragua isn’t about protocol and formal suits and all that. It’s a very natural and authentic place, and I hope it stays that way.”
What does Nicaragua have to offer in terms of tourism?
Anasha is eager to stress the many benefits of deciding on Nicaragua as a holiday destination. Now politically stable and at peace, the country is considered safe for visitors. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was a British Protectorate until 1894, so offers a wealth of colonial history, including architecture, language and customs. Further evidence of colonial influences can be found in Grenada, historically the biggest Spanish settlement. The Creole culture, in part gleaned from these European influences, determines much of the language, customs and celebrations in Nicaragua, as well as helping to shape some of its iconic local dishes. Besides the engaging culture and people, Nicaragua is also a great spot for watersports (including kayaking and surfing), trekking and enjoying the spectacular scenery (features include volcanoes as well as a beautiful coastline). Both “old” and “new” Leon are worth a visit. More adventurous visitors may wish to try “volcano boarding”!
Local food in Nicaragua
Rice and beans are a staple dish in the country. Economical and delicious, there are a number of variations. The dish is so popular that even the Nicaraguan Macdonald’s serves a version! Other delicacies include Creole recipes (dishes rich in corn, seafood and rice, often with a French, Spanish or African influence), nactamel (a type of corn bread stuffed with meat, vegetables and seasoning), sopa de modongo (a slow-cooked vegetable soup) and seasoned ox tongue. In addition to indigenous foodstuffs, a growing amount of food is imported, providing western alternatives to traditional dishes.
Festivals and events
Influenced by colonialism, many of the festivals and events which take place in Nicaragua have European roots. There are a large number of celebrations during Holy Week and Easter (about 75% of Nicaraguans identify as Roman Catholic), including processions, parades and other events. Anasha Campbell elaborates, “There are plenty of celebrations to choose from for travelers looking to participate in Easter activities. During Holy Week, different processions and authentic traditions take place throughout the country. One of the most popular events is ‘The Donkey Procession’, which takes place on Palm Sunday. A statue of Jesus (or a real person dressed as Jesus) sits atop a donkey as parade participants walk around town singing and praying. Semana Santa is also a time when red meat is not consumed so travelers will find vegetarian and fish specials aplenty at many restaurants. In Nicaragua, traditional Holy Week dishes include almibar, a sweet syrup-like drink made with mangoes, coconut and papaya; cheese soup made with corn and similar to a chowder; and Gaspar fish cooked with spices and served with rice.” There are also Mayday and Christmas celebrations, all with an engaging Nicaraguan twist.
Anasha Campbell is passionate about her Creole heritage and the impact Creole people have had not only on her own upbringing, but also on Nicaragua as a whole. She is committed to ensuring that tourism thrives in the country, but in a way that benefits local people at the same time as preserving their culture. She is clear that most of the businesses which benefit from tourism are SME’s, with the income derived going directly to the Nicaraguan people, rather than to the government. She sees tourism as an opportunity to share the diversity and history of the country with a wider audience, at the same time as preserving and celebrating the traditional ways of life which give Nicaragua its unique ambience.