Tourism Trends in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019

Special Report

Demand for Latin America is on the rise, standing out more and more as a tourist destination. The region has an estimated growth of 2.1% in 2019, although with quite a heterogeneity between countries (BBVA Research, Unit of South America, 2018), having received 217 million tourists in 2018, with interannual tourism growth of 3% (UNWTO, 2019).

The World Tourism Organization estimates that by 2027, Latin America will receive 78.2 million tourists, generating 82 billion dollars for the local economy. While the main market of the countries of this region is domestic tourism, the second is that of tourists from North America and Europe, observing a gradual increase of Chinese tourists (Baccino, 2019), which opens the spectrum of work to attract more Asian tourists to the region.

Latin America is outstanding for those tourists in search of nature and adventure, but also for those whose objective is the knowledge of the history and culture of the destinations, as well as the local gastronomy (Axon, 2018). While North American tourists tend to value their proximity to countries like Mexico, European tourists choose destinations in this region because they consider them exotic and relatively cheap, being the most popular countries Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Brazil, which are among the 20 best destinations outside Europe (Trekk Soft, 2019).

Tourism to Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. Thus, governments develop travel promotion programs and incentives in countries such as Peru, Colombia and Chile (initiatives as Procolombia, Chile Travel, Chile es TUYO, etc.). In 2016, Colombia created an official WeChat account seeking to promote the country’s tourism sector, while the National Tourism Promotion Institute of Argentina (Inprotur) partnered with the Alibaba Fliggy and the National Tourism Board of Peru developed a website in Chinese. Similarly, the countries of the region regularly participate in world trade fairs that include Asia, although there are, however, challenges to overcome, such as distance, connectivity, language, visa restrictions in some cases and logistical challenges (Baccino, 2019; Trekk Soft, 2019).

As far as outbound tourism is concerned, Latin American tourists mainly go to destinations in the Americas (as indicated by World Travel Monitor, the trips of these tourists in the region increased 13%, to Europe 5%, while Asia received 2% more Latin American tourists) (ITB Berlin, 2019).

In the survey developed by Trekk Soft (2019) between operators and tourism resellers, it is observed that they offer their tours and activities mainly in Spanish (36%) and English (32%) and only 3.2% in Mandarin. At the same time, they point out among the key trends they observe: the last-minute reservation, sustainability, unaccompanied travelers - impacting this issue especially on women, with Cuba as a Featured recipient country of this type of tourism-, adventure tourism and other nationalities.

Trends such as sustainability and adventure tourism play an important role in Latin American countries, while many tourists travel to the region in search of the incredible nature and adventure opportunities. Similarly, respondents noted Voluntourism, a combination of volunteering and tourism, as a growing trend in the region (Trekk Soft, 2019; Baccino, 2019).

Accompanying the general trends in world tourism, travelers are more aware and seek well-being. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the growth of wellness tourism is projected to double that of tourism in general and in 2017, sales of this type in Latin America and the Caribbean reached 34 billion of dollars (Jessop, 2019). In recent years, wellness trips have been developing from a focus on being experiential to being transformative and this evolution, together with the development of wellness tourism, can help mitigate the negative impacts of over-tourism (Latam Travel Agency, 2018; Powell and McGroarty, 2018-2019). An example of this in Latin America are resorts and hotels focused on physical exercise, hot springs, holistic spas, natural immersion breaks, sustainable accommodation and healthy eating, etc.

Another important trend is the surge of multigenerational travel: baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, centennials, each group has different interests and behaviors (Anauate, 2018). It is worth mentioning a surging global trend of ageing population (tourists aged 50 and more), which represents a brand new dynamic group with particular preferences: in-person transactions, “age-appropriate” destinations, more spare time to travel, low seasons and tendency to hire insurance (World Tourism Market Latin America, 2017).

In the global context, there is an increase in the importance of technology in the development of travel (Travelport, 2018). Also, although it is far from widespread, in Latin America you can also see the use of digital wallets (such as Apple Pay, Android Pay) (Schildknecht, 2018). Moreover, technology is allowing tourists to offer experiences increasingly adapted to their particular tastes and needs, that is, personalized.

A point of confluence of technology, well-being and sustainability, is given by smart cities, in which information and communication technologies and other technological means are integrated, seeking to optimize efficiency in the management of public services and provide systematized information to decision making, in the face of urban challenges. Related to this, the concept of Smart Destination (which is the one specially prepared to facilitate and improve the visitor experience through the application of technologies and innovations in the environment, as well as to address more sustainable management of local assets and natural resources) was developed. These destinations focus on axes that go beyond tourism management and both the smart city and destination have synergies that are intended to improve the lives of citizens. According to the IESE Cities in motion ranking, in 2017 the most prominent cities in Latin America in this regard were: Buenos Aires (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Mexico City (Mexico), Medellín (Colombia) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Three of them coincide with the 27 destinations distinguished by the Tripadvisor 2017 Travel choice (in which Buenos Aires occupies 3rd place, Santiago de Chile 7th place and Medellin 24th place) (Guerrero and Acosta, 2019).

At present, travel matters are considered close and personal and thus, tourist destinations and companies are dedicated to producing, for example, small promotional short films, focused on “niche segments,” with an attractive offer for different target audiences. An example of this is the “between friends” trips, which have been setting trends for some time in Latin America, being the case of the 15 years old adolescents (“quinceañeras”) an emerging sub-niche (while the celebrations of the 15 years are tradition and the parents usually save for the chance). In this context, video channels have been growing as a strategy to reach parents and adolescents, being also a means through which clients can relate their travel experiences. The Argentine firm FunTime is an example of this. Other niches that require tailored promotions are school trips, uncle and nephew trips, luxury travelers among Millennials, etc. (Think with Google, 2016; Axon Marketing & Communications, 2018; Latam Travel Agency, 2018).

Recent years have seen the proliferation of websites and blogs written by women reporting their experience as autonomous travelers, which also manifests the impact of female empowerment on tourism. More frequently women travelling alone aim to arrange their own itinerary. They usually pay a lot of attention to reviews on travel websites such as TripAdvisor and Hostelz, and to details in reservation platforms such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing (WTMLA, 2017).

On the other hand, experiences and new destinations gain space, while there is a growth in the search for destinations not usually traveled by tourists and that allow knowing the authenticity of the place and its people. Different examples are located in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Guatemala and its IMPULSA program, created in 2015 to conserve and diversify its rich natural and cultural heritage, while helping to reach its potential in the industry of the tourism (Latam Travel Agency, 2018; Trekk Soft, 2019). Within a framework of sustainability, a successful initiative emerged from this program has been La Choza Chula (in El Paredón, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala), a non-profit organization that organizes turtle and mangrove tours in the area, as well as cooking classes, home-based, cultural immersion and volunteer programs, having also developed the construction of a library, a mobile library, a computer lab and a secondary school (Trekk Soft, 2019). In other words, the field of tourism currently offers a perspective of collaboration between the ecosystem, seeking collective growth.

Final notes

Tourism, as is known, is consolidated as one of the most relevant economic activities of today and has a growth forecast. Thus, while tourism grows driven by the equally growing wealth in emerging economies such as China and India, coupled with the accessibility of air travel, emerging and developing countries appear as a source and destination of tourists.

In that context, while the travel industry continues to open roads to new dialogues and confluences between cultures, encouraging connectivity, at the same time it makes other impacts felt, such as environmental, also appealing from its place to rethink the place of travellers, in the direction of sustainable tourism, which not only connects and allows to know more and better but also to take care and project the future in its different dimensions. In this sense, tourism becomes much more than a source of material gains for Latin America and the Caribbean but also a projection platform of its rich wealth of thought and life experience, which impacts on the personal experience of the tourists that visit the region.

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