It’s nearly all positive news for the tourism industry in Latin America. Sarah Gilbert looks into growth in arrivals, increased airlift and the biggest developments of 2017.
Latin America packs in everything from the Amazon jungle to the snowy mountains and glaciers of Tierra del Fuego, and has historic cities, breathtaking scenery and fascinating cultures at every turn. Thanks to its size and diversity, it’s a year-round destination too.
GlobalData reported that Peru (LA100) celebrated a significant growth in tourism arrivals in 2016. The latest figures report that 3.74 million international tourists arrived in Peru last year, up by 8.4% from 2015. The 2016 visitor numbers from Asia and the Pacific region went up by 10.6% year-on-year – the most significant increase – followed by North America (up 10%) and the UK (up 9.6%).
Other Latin American destinations to enjoy a successful year include Chile (LA500), which saw the biggest rise in international visitors (see box, opposite), Colombia (LA400), Argentina (LA250) and Costa Rica (LA450).
In 2016, Colombia saw a 13.5% increase in visitors year-on-year, with arrivals from Mexico taking the top spot with a rise of 61%. Uruguay (LA430) also saw a dramatic increase (36.1%). Operators remark that the country is safer, new destinations and places of interest are opening up and hotel options have increased dramatically, from luxury boutique hotels to international chains such as Four Seasons.
Argentina, by contrast, reported a 0.8% year-on-year fall in international arrivals for 2016, but visitors from Spain and Italy were up 0.6%.
Costa Rica, an incredibly popular destination in Central America, saw a 10% rise in international visitors, with the greatest increase coming from the UK at 49.3% in 2016. The country also reports a 12.7% rise in UK visitors during the first three months of 2017, but the US remains the largest share of arrivals at 41.9%.
Neighbouring Nicaragua (LA320) saw a 9% year-on-year increase in tourism arrivals in the first three months of 2017, with the share of European visitors increasing by 3.3%. Belize saw UK tourism increase by 5% in 2016, and a 9% overall increase in cruise visitation, with cruise passengers exceeding one million visitors for the first time.
While travel to Latin America is showing similar growth rates to other parts of the world, results from the recent LATA Trends Report show that the perceived high cost and long distances remain barriers to booking. There have also been regional issues such as the Zika virus.
But airlift is improving. British Airways launched direct flights to Chile in January, flying four times a week from London Gatwick. This follows the airline’s introduction of direct flights to San Jose in Costa Rica and Lima in 2016. Air Europa (CA330) is investing heavily in its fleet, with Dreamliner 787s currently deployed on the Lima, Bogota and Buenos Aires routes. Flights are also now bookable on Ryanair’s website, giving the airline visibility among the low-cost carrier’s 130 million customers.
Colin Stewart, director (United Kingdom) at Air Europa, says: “Our most popular Latin American routes are Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Bogota. Another star performer is Cancun, a route where passenger numbers increased 20% in the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period the year before.”
Aeromexico now runs daily direct flights between London and Mexico City. In October, United Airlines launched a new year-round daily, direct service between New York and Buenos Aires, and from March 29, 2018, Lufthansa will offer twice-weekly direct flights from Frankfurt to San Jose.
Travel is also opening up within the region. In May, Avianca (LA410) launched a daily service between Bogota and Cusco, cutting out positioning nights in Lima. In September, Latam launched a new direct flight from Lima to Tucuman, and direct flights from Santiago to San Juan, Neuquen and Tucuman in Argentina in October.
Operators and destination management companies are creating original tours and products, with new hotels and tourism infrastructure also expected to fuel interest in the region.
In Peru, the Belmond Andean Explorer sleeper train journeys from Cusco to Lake Titicaca, and the north of the country is opening up with a new cable car to the mountain citadel of Kuelap. And, along with Bolivia and Argentina, Peru will play host to the 40th edition of the Dakar Rally, a cross-country motorsports marathon, from January 6-20, 2018.
Eco-tourism pioneer Inkaterra opened its Guides Field Station in the heart of the Amazonia Tambopata National Reserve to guests for the first time in June. And the country’s spectacled bears will be in the spotlight with the release of Paddington 2 in November, and Paddington Bear’s 60th anniversary in 2018.
Awasi Iguazu is due to open in December on the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls. Each of the 14 suites will have a pool, and a private guide and vehicle to give guests a bespoke experience.
In Brazil, luxury hotel operator the Oetker Collection debuted its first hotel in South America with the opening of the Palacio Tangara in Sao Paulo in May 2017, with a Four Seasons slated to open in the city in mid-2018.
And while it retains its off-the-beaten-track feel, Nicaragua is no longer the preserve of backpackers with the opening of several luxury boutique hotels in the past year, including mountain resort Nekupe, Isleta El Espino – a private island hotel on Granada's islets – and Calala Island, the first private island on the country’s Caribbean coast, with just four beachfront suites.
There are also new ways of seeing long-standing attractions. Metropolitan Touring (LA401) has launched the first luxury island-hopping safari in the Galapagos, offering greater flexibility than a traditional cruise and the chance to explore some of the archipelago’s more remote regions.
And three new vessels will launch in Antarctica in the next couple of years; Resolute from One Ocean Expeditions (NA200) and Magellan Explorer from Antarctica XXI in 2018, and Hondius from Oceanwide Expeditions (LA101) in 2019.
Tailor-made trips are the most commonly booked to the region and, according to Last Frontiers: “Longer, multi-destination trips are on the increase, combining several countries in Central America; or Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Antarctica or the Falklands.”
Journey Latin America commented: “Self drive has gradually been getting more popular in Latin America and we now have self-drive holidays in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Southern Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.” New destinations are also slowly opening up, including Paraguay – Journey Latin America has unveiled its first holiday to the country, the 12-day Signature Paraguay: Mission and The Chaco.