Tourism-eager Latin Americans discover themselves
With increasingly better connections to destinations within Latin America, more people choose to stay on the continent
Panama-based Copa Airlines recently reported that it moved 2.3 million passengers in the first two months of this year, up nearly 20% from the same two-month period last year.
Stanley Motta, chairman of the board of Copa Holdings, says that his airline experienced growth of 24% last year and he expects a further 17% growth this year. The company will take delivery of seven more aircraft this year, he adds.
Intra-American tourism is a highlight of that growth. Before it was really difficult to go from one country to another, said Motta. Copa has realized the importance of connecting the Americas with the Americas.
Today the company offers destinations as diverse as Manaus and Belo Horizonte in Brazil, Cordoba in Argentina and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. A few years ago there was very limited service within Latin America. This is what we developed, he said.
Copas geographic location enables the airline to connect these destinations with one convenient stopover. People all of a sudden are thinking about spending their vacations within Latin America, he says.
Tourism in Central America and the Caribbean has been gaining strength in recent years, rivaling other sectors in fuelling growth.
Panama has seen one of the fastest increases, with arrivals now coming close to the 2.6 million visitors received by Costa Rica the previous year. Tourism represents the equivalent of 8% of GDP in Panama.
But despite its growth, Panama is a late comer to the tourism game. It is currently receiving major investment in hotel infrastructure and vastly expanding its international airport, as well as gearing for much greater business tourism with new convention centers.
Copa is now growing Panama City as a hub. One of the advantages of the hub system is the ability to offer secondary cities throughout the region.
Tourism in the Caribbean saw a 5% increase in arrivals in 2012 over the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). The CTO reported that were 23.8 million stay-over visitors the previous year, marking an increase of 3.3% from 2011.
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There are some difficult spots, however, which also correspond to countries experiencing economic troubles. Grenada, which announced in mid-March it would default on $193 million in bonds, saw tourism declining by 5.1% last year.
The country also continues to deal with the impact of hurricanes midway through the last decade, which were at the root of its default in 2005.
Jamaica is also experiencing lingering problems from the international financial crisis. While tourist arrivals last year finally recovered to pre-crisis levels, the amount of money spent by tourists remains down.
Venezuela, which receives tourists as part of the Caribbean, got some bad news for its already troubled tourism industry.
A new report from the World Economic Forum released in March ranked it among the countries that are least friendly to tourists in the world.
Coming in at 113, among 140 countries evaluated, Venezuela placed only above Bolivia and Paraguay in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 that looks at countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries.
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