*Exclusive Report for MercoPress by Peter Lowy.
International tourism is rebounding across Latin America this year, and to help ensure that the upward trend continues, 10 nations across the region participated in the inauguration last week of FITA, the International Tourism Fair of the Americas, in Mexico City.
FITA 2010 was organized to support travel industry professionals across the globe, and to promote Mexico City as a destination for international and domestic tourists. Thirty thousand visitors attended the four-day event, which ended Sept. 26.
After tourism to Central and South America fell in 2009 by 6% and 3%, respectively, 2010 is on track to see healthy growth. During the first six months of 2010, international tourist arrivals in Central America increased 9%, compared to the same period last year, while South America has seen a 6% gain. (According to the World Tourism Organization, tourist arrivals worldwide grew 7% during the first half of 2010, compared to the same period last year.)
Here is what a number of regional officials attending FITA 2010 had to say.
Tourists traveling to Guatemala generally come for the archeological and historical sites and for recreation, including fishing and bird watching. While only 90,000 out of the 1.5 million international travelers who visit Guatemala each year are from Mexico, Guatemala is a growing destination for Mexicans, said Graciela Salazar de Hernández, who handles tourism matters at the Guatemalan embassy in Mexico City.
“It’s important for us to increase awareness about Guatemala,” she said. “We are especially interested in business conventions and incentive travel.”
Lilian Kechichian, Uruguay’s vice-minister of tourism, said her country is looking to better acquaint Mexicans with her nation. Last year, about two million tourists arrived in Uruguay, but like Guatemala, only a small fraction—14,000—were Mexicans.
Kechichian said Uruguay historically has not actively promoted itself to Mexico, but with more direct flights now available between Mexico City and Montevideo, she expects inbound tourism to increase. Specifically, Uruguay by 2015 is looking to triple the number of Mexican tourists it receives annually.
Following a 22% drop last year in the number of Mexicans who visited the Dominican Republic—from 23,000 in 2008 to 18,000 in 2009—the country is aiming to regain most of those visitors this year, aiming for 20,000. As with other smaller Latin American nations, Mexicans traditionally have accounted for a miniscule share of the international tourists who disembark in the Dominican Republic.
“We’re thinking of opening an office in Mexico City next year, and we’re negotiating new flights with Aero Mexico, which could drive tourism up dramatically,” said Magaly Toribio, the Dominican Republic’s vice-minister of tourism. “We’re finding more Mexicans thinking about the Dominican Republic due to security issues in Mexico, and we want to be there for them.”
With tourism being Panama’s most important industry—and Mexico its most important Latin American market—the Panamanian Tourism Authority came to FITA to promote the country as a destination for medical tourist and business meetings.
Ilka Aguilar Valle, of Panama’s Tourism Authority, said the four-day event produced good contacts for a number of private businesses based in Panama. That, she said, should help make 2010, already on track to be an improvement over last year, even better.
While the overall number of foreigners visiting Costa Rica jumped 9% during the first six months of 2010, compared to the same period last year, only about 3% of them come from Mexico. Ireth Rodriguez Villalabos, responsible for promoting tourism to Costa Rica, came to the conference as part of a larger effort to boost interest in Costa Rica among Mexican travelers.
“Costa Rica is only a three-hour flight away, and we want the Mexican people to learn more about us,” she said. To that end, her organization and tour operators based in Mexico are considering launching a new, joint promotion campaign in 2011 to persuade more Mexicans to fly south.
*Peter Lowy writes on places of interest to novice and experienced leisure and business travelers alike. More information at: www.bus-com.com.