Fountain Hills wants to engage with a foreign country in the West for opportunities in education and commerce. El Salvador is looking at tourism to aid its emergence from the aftermath of a devastating civil war.
No wonder it was smiles for everyone Tuesday when town leaders met with a high-ranking official from that Central American nation.
“It is an honor for me to be here today,” Minister of Tourism Ruben Rochi said, “to participate in an event that represents the first step towards a long-lasting and friendly relationship between this beautiful city and my beloved country.”
Tuesday’s Town Hall reception and luncheon at the Community Center were mostly ceremonial, but business will be discussed in earnest this morning. At the Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce, the three-person Salvadoran delegation will talk with representatives of local companies and investment firms.
Rochi, accompanied by a consul general and a trade official, planned to spend Tuesday night in Prescott. That city has a sister city agreement with El Salvador, and Fountain Hills is exploring the same.
Fountain Hills already has two sister cities, but they are in Europe, and town officials want a pairing that’s closer. Mayor Wally Nichols also has said a Spanish-speaking locale is important.
Tuesday’s events took place, Rochi noted, on the 15th anniversary of the peace accord that ended El Salvador’s civil war. In the 12 years before the accord, 75,000 people were killed.
But the country has been peaceful since, and Rochi has worked for more than two years trying to rebuild El Salvador through tourism. He seems confident of reaching the goal of no less than 2 million visitors by 2014, but there is more to Rochi’s salesmanship of his country than just numbers.
“We want to enhance the ‘quality’ of tourist we’re receiving,” Rochi said. “Instead of bringing a mass of tourists into El Salvador, we will be very glad to receive smaller amounts of people with more expenditure capacity.”
If so, then Rochi is in the right place. Fountain Hills’ median household income, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, is $61,619, almost 60 percent greater than that of Arizona.