No sector of the travel industry has been more important in opening up new vacation horizons than the tour operators specializing in Latin America. They do the research and ease the way with new and flexible travel products ranging from resort and diving packages to locally hosted and escorted programs accenting ecotourism, archaeology and adventure attractions. Additionally for travel agents, tour operators bring knowledge and experience to the travel-planning table, and they guarantee not only commissions, but such services as emergency assistance.
According to Tara Tours president Daniel Taramona, the operator’s most popular destinations are Panama, Peru and Ecuador, with eight days or nights the average vacation time. “Right now we offer clients a huge variety of tour packages for 17 countries, possible nowadays because of better roads, air services, hotels and appealing attractions in most destinations. And for travel agents, we offer travel agent seminars and FAMs that not only introduce new destinations for agents to sell, but give them first-hand, up-close experiences that help to get rid of such stigmas as Latin America is unsafe or uncomfortable.
Sarah Erskine, president of MILA Tours, meanwhile, says, “Our best-selling destinations are Peru and Argentina, and in particular, we are offering more and more options to stay longer in Mendoza; it’s not only Argentina’s wine district, but a great area for adventure, ranging from horseback riding to white-water rafting.” She adds that, “Travel agents today are more savvy and many who contact us have really done their homework on the web and in the media. Working together, we sort out what works and what doesn’t, and most important what works best for particular clients and groups.”
Michelle Shelburne, president of LADATCO Tours, finds that, “The Latin America market is stable, neither up nor down, and all parts of South and Central America sell well in winter. What is new is the phenomenon of last-minute bookings for high-end, all-inclusive arrangements. Nowadays, working with agents also means working with clients to sort out the ‘too much’ research done online. Additionally, we believe that travel agents should experience Latin America as their clients do, and we do everything possible to help with onsite discounts and complimentary arrangements for individual FAMs.”
At Goway Travel, Latin expert Don Forster points to the Galapagos, Peru and Antarctica as the tour operator’s South America best sellers, and Costa Rica and Belize in Central America. “However, for the immediate future, we will be highly recommending Falklands, Antarctica (becoming more affordable), Galapagos (with its ongoing deals) and perfectly safe Colombia. Our clients divide about 50/50 between cultural and natural history special interests.”
When it comes to Woodbridge International’s tour offerings, the operator’s president, Michael Woodbridge, says, “We do a lot of diving, as well as surfing vacations, catering to beginners and experts. Costa Rica is a best seller, as is Belize, which not only has great diving supported by good dive shops, but it offers cave and ancient ruins explorations. I’m a surfer and will be scouting Nicaragua in-depth to add to our destination inventory in 2013.”
Goway Travel: The 9-day Venezuela in Depth. From its sugared beaches in the north to its snowcapped Andean peaks in the west, this is a country blessed with natural gifts. Highlights are Los Roques Archipelago National Park, Orinoco Delta, Angel Falls and Canaima National Park. Arrangements include domestic flights, top accommodations, most meals, and guided sightseeing. Tour cost starts at $2,835 pp dbl. (888-469-2955; goway.com)
LADATCO Tours: The 14-day Si Patagonia. A luxury tour highlighting classic Patagonia: Buenos Aires, Las Glaciares National Park, Patagonia by cruise (Ushuaia to Punta Arenas aboard Stella Australis), Torres del Paine National Park and Santiago. Departures are September-April. Priced from $9,689 pp dbl, including luxury accommodations and private drivers & guides. (800-327-6162; ladatco.com)
MILA Tours: The 6-day Ecuadorian Gastronomic Delight. Highlights include three nights at Hacienda Rumiloma in Quito; one night at La Mirage in Cotacachi; and one night atPapallacta Thermal Springs. This food-themed program includes two cooking classes with a trip to the market, most meals and privately guided excursions. Priced from $2,600 pp dbl. (800-367-7378; milatours.com)
Tara Tours: The 5-night Hard Rock Megapolis & Gamboa Rainforest. This land-only package combines a 3-night stay at the new five-star Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, plus city tour and canal tour, with two nights in a deluxe riverview room at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Included are transfers and daily buffet breakfast. Priced at $673 pp dbl. (800-327-0080; taratours.com)
Woodbridge International: 9-day Costa Rica. This popular company package features an 8-day car rental (Daihatsu Bego 4×4); two nights at Arenal Springs Hotel; two nights atTrapp Family Lodge (Monteverde); four nights at La Mansion Inn (Manuel Antonio); daily breakfast; and Sky Tram, Sky Trek (zip-line) and Sky Walk (hanging bridge) adventures. Priced from $748 pp dbl. (800-883-8366; woodbridgeinternational.com)