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Exciting times for tourism in South America

Opinión· Domingo, 05 de Enero de 2014

South America is already a big market. In the next years the region could position itself as a must-go destination.

2013 has been a good year for tourism worldwide, showing growth rates that already surpass the 2%-4% forecast - even before knowing the results for the whole year. While Europe recovers, Spain is back to place #3 in the world destination ranking in terms of international arrivals, ahead of China. South America has seen an increase in tourism arrivals of 3.2%, but perspectives for 2014 are excellent, with a forecast of 6% growth.

The world tourism landscape is dominated by the emerging markets, specially in Asia but at a lesser scale in South America. In both continents, the middle class is booming and that is consolidating these countries as robust outbound tourism markets. Each year millions of people join the international traveling class. It's the new lifestyle. Take Brazil, for example. During the 2000-2010 decade, the number of trips abroad incresased by 62% and this trend, while slower in the last couple of years, remains solid in this country and keeps growing in other countries in the region. Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina or Panama are already big tourist exporters and noone is oblivious to this enormous opportunity. Each year new routes between the main hubs in the continent and the rest of the world are opened. In 2014 Brand USA, the international tourism marketing organisation that the Obama administration just launched, plans on opening not one but several offices in the continent.

South America is far from the traditional big travel markets and that defines its dynamics. In the first place, because the region relies on itself for growth. Its potential does not lie in attracting long-distance trips for faraway countries, but in the internal market. For Brazil, the main tourism market in the region, the increase in outbound travel is forecasted at 6% for 2014 but with one caveat: the most popular kind of travel is short trips, getaways. For these, the forecast escalates to 16% more trips with 12% more expenditure than this year. And where do you travel when you have four days? Nearby. To your neighbour countries. Improved regional connectivity between the main destinations in the region will be key to consolidate this trend. Higher frequencies, more seats, for less money.

In the second place, South America is perceived by long-distance travelers as one single destination, specially for Asians. The grand tour is to the continent, not to a single country. A multi-destination trip. In this sense, new air routes with fewer stopovers between the icons of the continent like the new Iguazu-Cuzco route is not accidental. The region must consider how to make the best of the magnificent opportunity it is facing in the light of the World Soccer Championship of 2014 and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Not only to capitalize on the large number of visitors which with no doubt will arrive attracted by these events, but also to position itself in front of the whole world as a major destination. A diverse destination with extraordinary attractions. A single, cohesive destination.

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