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Travelers who are dreaming of bucket-list Latin American destinations such as Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia shouldn’t wait to plan a trip — even as the pandemic continues to keep many from venturing out, according to Sandra Borello, president of Borello Travel & Tours, which specializes in South American vacation packages.
“People are already booking for 2022, but this is normal even without a pandemic,” she said. “Everyone who wants to go to Easter Island, Patagonia [or the] Galapagos Islands — if you don’t book one or two years in advance, you don’t get the space.”
People are already booking for 2022, but this is normal even without a pandemic … if you don’t book one or two years in advance, you don’t get the space.
The challenge now, according to Borello, is that there is more demand for scarcer products.
“There are two things affecting availability: people who are rescheduling trips that were postponed, and new people trying to go now,” she said.
Challenges and opportunities facing Latin America’s tourism markets were among the topics of discussion at the 20th Global Summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The event took place last week at Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, Mexico, attracting some 600 tourism officials and business leaders from around the world, as well as thousands of virtual participants.
Among the speakers at the event was Juan Manuel Santos, former president of Colombia and a 2016 Nobel Peace Prize winner. He has publicly called for a temporary waiver in vaccine patents to foster increased production and distribution.
“We are not safe until everyone is safe,” he told Gloria Guevara, CEO of WTTC, during an interview at the conference.
Indeed, vaccination rates, which vary widely around Central and South America, are a crucial factor affecting tourism. Vaccinations have even become a selling point for some of Borello’s tours.
“Most of the tours we offer are with private guides who are vaccinated,” she said. “And almost everyone who lives and works in the Galapagos Islands is vaccinated.”
In general, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Latin America’s tourism industry especially hard, according to a study by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. Among the countries most affected were Argentina, which reported a 77.3% drop in international arrivals in 2020 compared to the previous year; Guatemala, which had a 76.2% drop; and Chile, which dropped 75.2%. Mexico’s international arrivals dropped only 46%, while in Bolivia, some 50% of tourism businesses have closed permanently, according to the report.
Latin American nations follow various strategies aimed at controlling and restricting foreign entry. Some require COVID-19 tests of all international visitors, while some require quarantine and/or health insurance. This has made selling the region more complicated for travel advisors, tour operators and other suppliers.
“We’re advising people that it’s better not to do a multi-country tour, because if one country closes its borders, it can affect the whole trip,” Borello said. “We’re not offering multi-country itineraries for countries with borders that aren’t open yet. Argentina and Chile both still have borders that are closed for tourism, and we’re not offering Brazil at all."
We’re advising people that it’s better not to do a multi-country tour, because if one country closes its borders, it can affect the whole trip.”
Still, there is optimism within Latin America’s tourism industry, according to Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of SAHIC, a hotel and tourism investment conference that is scheduled to meet in September in Panama.
“South America is a bit behind right now with vaccines,” he said. “But I think in the second quarter, a large part of the region will be vaccinated. Uruguay is incredible. It’s estimated that by the end of June, most — if not all — of the population will be vaccinated.”
South America is a bit behind right now with vaccines, but I think in the second quarter, a large part of the region will be vaccinated.
Juan Corvinos, vice president of development for Latin America and the Caribbean at Hilton, said that his company is already seeing growth in some parts of the region.
“Leisure is definitely back, and corporate is coming back,” he said. “The last thing that will follow will be groups.”
Corvinos noted that even with the past year’s sharp drop in international visitors, many countries have found some economic relief through domestic tourism.
“Even though we might not see a lot of international travelers coming back initially, [countries] will sustain with local tourism,” he said. “The same thing has happened in some countries in Europe, where people may not be allowed to go out of their country, so they start rediscovering their local icons.”
In addition, Corvinos said that hoteliers such as Hilton are continuing to develop a robust pipeline of new hotels throughout the region. In fact, he added that more hoteliers in Latin America are drawn to the marketing and logistical strength of brand affiliation, which is resulting in more conversions of existing independent properties to internationally recognized chains.
“This is a trend that we kept on seeing,” he said. “Owners want to talk about recovery, they want someone to give them confidence, a steadier current from where they can swim out of the pandemic.”
Corvinos also predicted that many current protocols will stay in place, at least for a while.
“Hilton’s CleanStay will continue to be very important for the foreseeable future,” he said, referring to the company-wide hygiene program. “Those initiatives we’ve exported from CleanStay into meetings, and that will be very important.”
For Garcia Rosa, the recent WTTC Global Summit provided a perfect example for his organization’s upcoming convention to follow.
“The WTTC sends an excellent message to the industry and beyond that it’s possible to meet,” he said. “This has been a very important event, especially for me and my team. We’re learning a lot. If we learn this lesson well and share our message well, we could have a big surprise in Panama. I think SAHIC in September will be a big success.”
The DetailsWorld Travel & Tourism Council