QUITO, Ecuador -- Travel industry officials who market and sell
South America concurred that leisure traffic has increased
significantly in the last year and the bookings outlook is good for
The demand for alternative foreign destinations, the up-scaling
of the tourist infrastructure and a sense of safety for North
Americans traveling south to the other America are the major
reasons why travel to South American destinations is heating up,
The forum for these assessments was the annual TravelMart
LatinAmerica, the industry marketplace for Latin American travel
Among U.S. tour operator delegates, there was a general
consensus that the South American "hot spots" are Ecuador, Peru,
the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
In addition, there was agreement that the strongest audience for
South American vacations is the seasoned, well-educated traveler,
and the biggest growth in bookings is coming from those who are
willing to spend big dollars on customized itineraries.
"We are having the most amazing year, particularly with bookings
that have jumped from $1,500 each to $15,000," said Caryn Maxim,
president of Maxim Tours.
The operator, who launched Maxim Tours' Uncommon Tours Latin
American program a decade ago with Argentina, finds that today her
best-selling destination is Chile.
"We also have a welcome rise in bookings to Brazil, which is a
frustrating country because it doesn't seem to realize the
attractions it has or capitalize on the great destination it could
be," she added.
According to Michele Shelburne, president of Ladatco Tours, "The
strong trend in South American travel to one-country or one-region
vacations is good for us all, opening the door to repeat
Shelburne said that family travel is another fast-rising market
segment, particularly for family-friendly itineraries like a a
Galapagos Islands cruise.
World Dimension's Jaime Alvarez, whose company specializes in
destination management and marketing representation, is
particularly bullish on the potential of travel to Brazil.
"While the points on a traditional tour are Rio, Iguassu Falls,
Salvador de Bahia and Manaus, there's lots of work to be done in
developing niche and special-interest markets," he said.
For his Brazil-based client, Blumar Tours, Alvarez is working to
promote the country to the African-American market as well as
developing both incentive business and adventure travel programs to
such undiscovered locations as the wildlife zones of the Pantanal
or the Chapada Diamantine region in the northeast.
While working with Lima Tours in Peru, World Dimension's focus
is on designing new programs in and around the capital that add in
visits to art galleries, private homes and nearby haciendas.
"It's simple to sell Machu Picchu, but a country with such
historical, cultural and natural variety is [also] ripe for
presenting alternative products," said Alvarez.
Ecuador, too, is ready to capitalize on its mainland
attractions, developing more visitor traffic beyond Galapagos. A
primary objective is to encourage longer stays in its two major
gateways, Quito and Guayaquil, which have completed restoration and
According to tourism minister Hernan Plaza, both cities will be
slated for primary attention under the government's marketing and
promotion campaign for 2004, budgeted at $8 million, with 30% to
35% of that money to be spent in the U.S., Ecuador's primary
Extended stays in Quito should be an easy sell. The capital,
celebrating its 25th anniversary as the first world capital to make
the Unesco World Heritage Site list, is winding down a 10-year
renewal program that has brought new life to its old city
Guayaquil, Ecuador's commercial center on the Pacific coast, has
also been transformed, with restorations that include the
historical Las Penas neighborhood.
Among other developments in Ecuador, two new hotels are now in
business on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos: the Royal Palm, a
superluxe getaway in the highlands, and the first-class Finch Bay
Hotel, located a short taxi-boat ride from the main town of Puerto
These two properties offer something new to this premier
cruising destination: a land-based visit that will appeal mostly to
pre- and post-cruise clients or cruise passengers for whom other
shore excursions are too rigorous.
Set to enter the Galapagos cruise market next spring is the
32-passenger Evolution, which will join the yacht fleet of Quasar
Nautica. For more information, visit www.quasarnautica.com.
More on Galapagos cruises: The word on the TravelMart exhibition
floor was that Royal Caribbean will introduce a newly refitted,
100-passenger ship in the islands, to be called Sun Bay II.
When asked to comment, a company spokesman said, "Royal
Caribbean does not respond to rumors pertaining to business
The next TravelMart Latin America is set for Sept. 29 to Oct. 1,
to be held on the Brazil side of Iguassu Falls.
For additional information, contact the Jacksonville, Fla.-based
event managing firm, William H. Coleman, at (904) 398-6777 or
e-mail [email protected].
To contact reporter Carla Hunt, send e-mail to [email protected].
For more details on this article, see What's new in the market.