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Tourism is booming: Latin America travel trends revealed

Tourism is booming: Latin America travel trends revealed
Latin America travel trends revealed

Travel to Latin America has grown 3.3% in the first three quarters of 2019 and forward bookings for the Q4 are 4.0% ahead of where they were at the end of Q3 last year.

Trends were revealed at a panel discussion that took place at World Travel Market, London, moderated by journalist Jeremy Skidmore and featuring Colin Stewart; chairman of LATA, Olivier Ponti, Vice President of Insights at ForwardKeys and country representatives: María Amalia Revelo Raventós; Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica, Anasha Campbell Lewis; Minister of Tourism of Nicaragua, and Felipe Uribe; Chief Marketing Officer at Chile´s tourism board.

The data indicated that the largest source market for flights to Latin American countries, is North America, representing 43% of arrivals in the period 1st Jan – 30th Sep. From there, arrivals were up 7.0% in the first nine months of the year and forward bookings for Q4 are 6.0% ahead. The second most important source market, with 32% share, is Latin American countries themselves. In the first nine months, arrivals from Latin America were down 1.2% and Q4 bookings are effectively flat from the continent, just 0.1% ahead. The third major source market is Europe, with 22% share. European arrivals were up 2.1% in the first nine months and Q4 bookings are 5.1% ahead. Travel from Asia Pacific, with a 2% share, and Africa & the Middle East, with a 1% share, is showing impressive growth numbers, up 9.1% and 33.0% respectively for the first nine months and ahead 10.1% and 29.2% respectively for Q4.

Looking at the United Kingdom specifically, air reservation data over the last 12 months (up until 30 September 2019), shows a 1.2% decrease in total air arrivals in Latin America from the UK compared to the same period the previous year. However, by comparison, total international arrivals from the UK to the rest of the world have dropped by 1.6% during the same period – highlighting the resilience of the Latin American travel market.

One key factor is the economic crisis in Argentina which has led to a decline in the value of its currency, the Argentinian peso, making the destination exceptional value for visitors, but travel abroad much more expensive for its citizens. As Argentina is a major source market for other countries in the region, they have suffered a fall in arrivals.

Looking at forward bookings for Q4 of 2019 (period Oct – Dec), the data indicates a 4% y.o.y increase in global bookings to Latin America. Key growth countries include Nicaragua (+98.3%); albeit from a small baseline, Chile (+13.2%) and Panama (+13.1%). Forward bookings to Costa Rica are also up (+11.3%).

Looking specifically at Nicaragua, despite impressive tourism growth in 2017, in 2018 many of Nicaragua’s main markets enforced stringent travel advice following in-country protests having a major impact on the country’s travel industry. Prior to the protests, arrivals were up 5.1% y.o.y and bookings were up 7.0%. However, in the year that followed, arrivals in Nicaragua fell by nearly 60%. Recovery is now underway, with arrivals and bookings in the period May-Sep 2019 being dramatically up, compared to the volumes registered in the equivalent period the previous year. This recovery is being supported by LATA’s campaign targeted at the UK travel industry entitled #NicaraguaIsopen and encompassing a range of promotional actions.

Much more recently, domestic unrest has also impacted Ecuador. The data shows that despite a short-term impact, once the protests stopped, bookings recovered very quickly. The protests also had some short-term impact on other Latin American countries, Columbia, Panama and Peru.

In the case of Chile, the country is currently experiencing protests in Santiago which could have a short-term impact on visitor numbers. However, the above examples show the ‘bouncebackability’ of destinations in Latin America. Felipe Uribe, chief marketing officer for the Chile Tourism Board said: “While there are currently protests in central parts of Santiago, much of the city and the rest of the country is unaffected and people can continue with their travel plans as normal.”