The Survivor Effect–It Couldn’t Happen To A More Deserving Spot

One of my favorite places on earth will be getting a lot of positive attention starting later this month when “Survivor” begins filming its 21st season in and around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Then, for 14 weeks this fall, some 13 million U.S. households will tune in to CBS every Wednesday night to watch 20 Survivorists tromp around the Nicaraguan jungles.

This is a big deal for a little country like Nicaragua. I’ve seen the effects of this kind of thing in the past. When “Temptation Island,” for example, aired its Isla Bonita season filmed on Ambergris Caye, Belize, suddenly, overnight, this outpost of divers and fishermen was a household name.

The Temptation Island Effect created a new and higher-end (US$1 million-plus) market on this formerly unnoticed Caribbean island, the vestiges of which I viewed recently. All along Ambergris’ white-sand coast today are condo developments built to supply the Temptation Island viewers who, having been introduced to this island paradise in prime time, wanted to claim a little piece of it for themselves. How cool it became to be able to say, “I’m going down to spend a week on the beach at my place on Ambergris Caye…you know, the island off Belize where ‘Temptation Island’ was filmed…”

Now it’s Nicaragua’s turn. I’d say it couldn’t happen to a more deserving place. When it comes to Nicaragua today, you want to forget the Contras, forget the Sandinistas, forget politics altogether and focus on what this misunderstood country has to offer–that is, a dramatically beautiful Pacific coastline, a rugged and beautiful interior of jungle, lakes, and volcanoes, and a strong and a spirited people who want nothing more than peace and prosperity.

In short, little Nicaragua’s got big heart.

The 250-member crew of “Survivor” will inject more than US$6 million into the local San Juan economy over the next six months, contracting some 200 locals and renting the equivalent of 20,000 hotel room nights in this small town.

Like many economies around the world driven by foreign tourism and investment, that in Nicaragua is struggling right now. Of course, Nicaragua has other problems, too, but, I say again, you want to forget the politics of this country, which has so long suffered under their specter. In the current context, the U.S. dollars that the Survivor Effect will bring to Nicaragua, both immediately and longer term, will amount to a lottery win.

“Survivor’s” decision to base its next two seasons in Nicaragua is a major vote of confidence for this country. As Tourism Minister Mario Salinas put it, “They are not going to invest nearly US$7 million in a country that is unsafe and dangerous. If they come to make a program of this magnitude, it’s because the country offers the conditions they require.”

For its part, Nicaragua is doing everything it can to make sure its conditions don’t disappoint, leading to another positive Survivor Effect–infrastructure improvements to be sure roads, etc., can support crew access and production requirements.

I’ve been spending time in Nicaragua for more than 20 years, and I’m well-invested in this country. These past few years, as tough times struck, thanks to the re-election of Sandinista Danny Ortega to the presidency and then the global economic meltdown, I’ve been asked again and again if I’m holding on to my Nicaraguan assets.

“Don’t you think you should cut your losses and get out?” some have wondered, believing, I guess, that little Nicaragua is done for.

I’ve not once thought of selling what I own here, and, in fact, I’ve kept my eye out for opportunities to invest further. As I grow older, I become more reluctant to make aggressive predictions about the future of an investment or a market, but I will say this: Don’t underestimate Nicaragua.

Values move up…and then down. I’ve learned to take the cycles in stride…and to remain committed in markets where I like the fundamentals. My interpretation of a strong market, though, has little to do with spreadsheeted current economic data. The fundamentals that matter to me have more to do with the heart and soul of a place, the intrinsic, intangible appeals that I believe will keep not only me but also others coming back over the long haul.

These are the places where I want to own. Paris qualifies. And so does Nicaragua, another spot that fully captures my imagination.

I’m a romantic. I find it impossible to resist the lure of unfulfilled potential. And that’s Nicaragua in spades–a big heart and loads of unfulfilled potential.

Thanks to the coming Survivor Effect, word may finally begin to get out.

Kathleen Peddicord

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