Many of us who focus on Latin America look forward to TravelMart LatinAmerica (TMLA), an annual gathering of Central and South America buyers and sellers of travel products and services. Held in Salta, Argentina this year, the 3-day marathon of business meetings, orchestrated by William H. Coleman, Inc., gave all attendees a chance to find out what’s trendy, what’s hot or not, and what’s new among Latin America travel destinations.
This year’s TMLA led with a Trends and Analysis Seminar, where panelists set the stage for much of the news buzz on the marketplace floor. Ronald Sanabria, vice president of sustainability for Rainforest Alliance led with a strong message: “The new consumer is on the rise. Today, consumers want to live meaningfully and engage with travel companies with a purpose. This consumer cuts across all traditional market segments, across generations, educational levels and socio-economic strata. In Latin America, we have a golden opportunity to service these consumers by creating travel experiences that have a purpose: the conservation of the natural and cultural resources that make our region so appealing, so unique.”
Panelist Harry Dalgaard, Avanti Destinations’ president, agreed, adding that “now is the time to deliver more authentic and engaging travel experiences, the time to develop a product that is also more adventurous, more personalized, more attuned to local culture, and more involved in appreciation and preservation of the treasure that is the natural heritage of Central and South America.” Turning to the subject of selling Latin America, Dalgaard is adamant about the importance of retail travel agents to his business. “Today’s Internet-savvy travelers do lots of research, but when it comes to actually booking the trip, they turn to an experienced, educated, informed agent for the actual ground (not necessarily air) booking. We all should be actively supporting travel agent education.”
Alonso Roggero, general manager of Metropolitan Touring Peru, contributed: “We are noticing an increase in multi-country itineraries such as Peru and Bolivia, and Peru and Ecuador. And this trend seems to extend beyond Peru to other parts of South America. Already established is combining Chile and Argentina into a Patagonia itinerary, but new to the marketplace is the pairing of Argentina and Bolivia, going overland from Salta to Uyuni, as well as Chile and Bolivia, linking San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni.”
All panel members agreed that filling the demand for authentic and less-touristed experiences means paying more attention to new destinations. Fernando Escudero, head of the TMLA host committee and executive director for tourism development for the province of Salta, points out that Salta is a perfect example of a destination that attracts the travelers who are looking for something other than a traditional destination. “We are a beautiful province known for our Grand Canyon-like landscapes, our gaucho folklore, our historically rich and lively capital city Salta, and our famous wine region around Cafayate. And all our assets are accessible via an excellent road system that connects our visitors to adventures such as hiking, motor biking, and river running, as well as special interest routes for archaeology, gastronomy, and wine touring.” He adds, “By hosting TMLA, we are able to introduce Salta product to what is an excellent turnout of international tour operators—particularly a large delegation from North America. We hope we are an undiscovered destination about to be discovered.”
One subject all seminar panelists agreed on is not really a trend but an ongoing problem for buyers and sellers of Latin American travel: The lack of adequate air service and limited passenger capacity—a.k.a. available seats—are hampering tourism and the growth of their companies. Additionally, delegates continue to lament the general absence of national tourism office promotion in the international marketplace—with two outstanding exceptions: Peru and Colombia.
Surveying the sellers’ booths on the TLMA floor, one obvious and ongoing trend is that Latin America continues to move upmarket in visitor hospitality, in both urban hotels and country lodges. Just to take a sampling…
- As of Oct. 1, The Singular Patagonia hotel has a sister hotel, The Singular Santiago in the capital’s cultural district, the fashionable neighborhood of Lastarria; the family-owned, luxury property has 62 rooms; a spa; and a fine-dining, French-style restaurant. For more information, visit thesingular.com.
- The Casa Andina hotel group is closing its properties on Lake Titicaca and in Chachapoyas, but has just opened its first hotel at Machu Picchu, the 54-room Casa Andina Classic, which is modern in design and decor. For more information, visit casa-andina.com.
- TMLA delegates selling Colombia were delighted to hear that the Hacienda Bambusa, surrounded by a vast plantation in Armenia—coffee country—has reopened and is again welcoming guests to its charming 9-room property, set in beautiful gardens. For more information, visit haciendabambusa.com.
- In the Galapagos Islands, the 14-room Pikaia Lodge, a totally luxurious and eco-sustainable property, is now open in the highlands—where the giant tortoises live on Santa Cruz Island. For more information, visit pikaialodgegalapagos.com.
- The Relais & Chateaux group now has now has 22 hotel and restaurant members in South America; among the newest to join are the Hotel B in the Barranco district of Lima (hotelb.pe); the Palacio Astoreca in Valparaiso, Chile (hotelpalacioastoreca.com); and Narbona Wine Lodge in Colonia, Uruguay. For more information, visit narbona.com.uy.
- The luxury 23-rooom Vira Vira Hacienda Hotel is a newcomer to Chile’s Lake District. Located in a native park along the shores of the Lucera River, the hacienda accents the “Elegance of Adventure,” with activities such as horse trekking, hiking in national parks, skiing in winter, and sailing on Lake Villarrica. For more information, visit hotelviravira.com.
- In the province of Salta, Grace Hotels is an elegant new boutique property in the Cafayate wine district. Grace Hotel & Spa Cafayate shares the 1,300-acre Estancia Cafayate with an 18-hole golf course, a riding stable and surrounding vineyards. For more information, visit gracehotels.com.
And a bit of airline news from the TMLA floor comes from the Colombia booth, where we learn not only that the country shelters 10 percent of the entire world’s species in flora and fauna, but that Jet Blue is launching daily flight service from Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena, Colombia on Oct. 29. On a smaller scale, but of enormous importance to clients heading for Honduras: Finally under construction is a new airport for Copan, Honduras’s major archaeological attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Domestic flights, connecting with international air services in San Pedro Sula, Tegucigala, and Roatan, are expected to start up next spring.
On another note, Katija Ciprijan, South American Tours’ director of business development, contributed another piece of transport news: A new ferry service between Cartagena and Colon, Panama will start operation on Oct. 24. The service will be launched by Panama-based Ferry Xpress, using the Andriatico, remodeled in 2005 and with a capacity for 1,000 passengers, a crew of 300 and accommodating 500 automobiles. The ship will travel to Cartagena on Monday and Wednesday, and to Panama’s Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro on Friday. For more information, visit southamericantours.com.
Come 2015, TravelMart LatinAmerica returns for its 39th annual marketplace to Guatemala City, Sept. 23-25. “We are thrilled to be having this opportunity to showcase Guatemala during this most important tourism business event in the region,” says Brenda Zaldana, director of marketing for the Guatemala Tourism Institute (INGUAT). She advises that the roughly 1,000 attending delegates will be hosted by 14 Guatemala City hotels. “We expect that TravelMart will make both a short- and long-term impact on the country’s economy by attracting important global buyers who will boost Guatemala’s tourism offerings.” And those offerings in both nature and cultural tourism are substantial, attracting more than two million visitors in 2013. For more information, go to visitguatemala.com.