|VENEZUELA, A PARADISE IN SEARCH OF TOURISTS|
Aruba, August 22, 2013 - Venezuela's new tourism minister, Andres Izarra, says he intends to put his country on the map as a vacation hotspot.
Boasting the highest waterfall in the world, nearly deserted Caribbean islands and dense jungles with ocean views, Venezuela has everything a tourist could want – except the tourists are not coming.
In a country where explorer Christopher Columbus once believed he had found heaven on earth, officials are struggling to draw travelers, with only 700,000 visitors each year, in part due to Venezuela's somewhat tarnished image.
After neglecting the tourism sector for years, in favor of the lucrative oil industry – Venezuela has the world's largest proven reserves – the government in Caracas is now working hard to attract visitors.
However, the country suffers from outdated infrastructure – hotels, highways and domestic flights are all lacking – and wary foreigners who choose different destinations after seeing Venezuela's high crime rates.
"The main enemy of the development of tourism in Venezuela was oil," Carlos Vogeler, regional Americas director for the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), told AFP. "When a country has such a major revenue generator, it has a tendency to ignore others."