Good news travels fast: Highlights from LATA Expo 2020
Chalkmarks Good news travels fast: Highlights from LATA Expo 2020

AFTER five days at LATA Expo 2020, the future of travel feels hopeful, even optimistic. The pandemic dominated everything, of course, but the annual event that promotes tourism in Latin America brought back some travel joy.

As Europe begins to shut down again, South America, Central America, North America and the Caribbean are opening up. Panama welcomed back tourists in October, Belize is beginning to reopen – a potential bucket list destination for 2021 – travel has returned to the Galapagos Islands since safety became its priority, Los Cabos in Mexico has a new flight route and Machu Picchu in Peru is expected to open in November.

We also heard that 2021 would be a pivotal year if the sector is to meet its 2025 recovery target.

Tourist boards – such as those from Puerto Rico and Costa Rica – shared their strategies about how they are handling the pandemic. Experts showed the industry new windows of opportunity and data specialists forecast a promising albeit slow recovery.

Chalkmarks: Emma Barnes

Emma Barnes, MetroMail

Strong interest in travel continues and trends are already emerging

There is more of an interest in holidaying outside for Europe and outside the UK for 2021. Latin America now has similar interest levels as Asia. Also people are booking last minute more than ever.

Across all holidays – beach breaks, city getaways – staying safe is the new concern. Travellers are leaning towards the all-inclusive to manage their budgets and for scenery to get outdoors and escape crowds. People want to be in control of their holiday choice. They want to know from the company what happens if things go wrong. They are hungry for information. They are nervous. They are researching for longer and booking closer to departure. They are spending £2,200 per person per week on flights and accommodation but they will have more money next year. They will go away less but they are going away for longer.

Chalkmarks: Olivier Ponti

Olivier Ponti, ForwardKeys

The top search routes for Brits are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina

The Caribbean and Central American regions have performed significantly better than South America. This has a lot to do with their opening dates as many South American destinations have only recently announced the lifting of travel restrictions while some other destinations in the northern parts of this region reopened much earlier. Mexico outperformed the Latin average by 10 per cent. Mexico, which has managed to stay open during the whole period, and Puerto Rico, which has been open, has also outperformed the region.

The key to recovery is the lifting of travel restrictions. Unfortunately there is still no collaboration at regional level or even at global. Recovery may be a very bumpy road – it is not going to be steady. We know recovery is possible as we are seeing it already in San Jose del Cabo, which is registering growth on its key source market, Cancún is back to 2019 levels and Puerto Rico is at 70 per cent of 2019 volume and there are more destinations reporting positive signs of recovery.

Chalkmarks: Lloyd Figgins

Lloyd Figgins, CEO and Chairman, TRIP Group

Messaging needs to shift from #savetravel to #safetravel

I do think when we look at the communication side of things, communication from the travel industry – the overseas travel industry –  has not been as strong as it could have been. When we look at how the hospitality industry has gone about it, they have gone out of their way to show how safe it is to go to a bar or nightclub and to go and socialise with friends. Whereas with the travel industry the focus has been on how to save travel.

Safety sells and it really does, and this time more than any other, safety will sell because if you can demonstrate to your customers that you are putting in procedures designed to keep them safer they are more likely to go with your than one of your competitors but you must see it through.

Chalkmarks: Colin Stewart, Chairman, LATA

Colin Stewart, LATA Chairman

This crisis is also a mental health issue for those who work in travel

What is clear is that everyone operating in the travel and tourism industry is experiencing  significant challenges that is affecting not only their ability to do their jobs – to sell and to promote travel and tourism – but I think it goes beyond that. It goes into how does it affects them as individuals and their families and their ability to provide and that’s something that’s new.

We have to humanise what’s going on and realise that actually this is really affecting people’s mental health and well-being, so there’s a collectively responsibility for all of us to say how do we work together to overcome this and to make real change.

Testing is going to be the solution: The amount of money the airlines are burning through is significant. If you look at Iata their latest report said they are burning through $300,000 a minute. It’s about rapid testing, pre-departure, post-departure, let’s get that up and running, let’s build confidence back in the industry and let’s get feeling that we can travel.

Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico

Promoting the whole island is key strategy to dealing with disaster

Just because our attention has been captured by Covid doesn’t mean our priorities have been erased. Those things that were important 10 months ago with overtourism and sustainability, they are still priorities but mentally it’s difficult when you’re fighting for survival to balance those priorities.

After Hurricane Maria, which was one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States, we were able to rebound and recover tourism and get back above pre-Maria levels in just two years. We focused on promoting the rural areas – outside of those areas with extensive damage – and we promoted the whole island and what it did was disperse visitors. We used the antidote to overtourism to strength the brand. We promoted the art, the history, the culture of the island. That became a competitive strength that we were able to build upon.

Chalkmarks: Mauricio Ventura Aragón

Mauricio Ventura Aragón, former minister of tourism of Costa Rica

Sustainability is the most important issue

Sustainability for Costa Ricans is part of our DNA. Tourism is a fantastic tool to support sustainability. But more than support sustainability in the old way, which is sustainability equals green, in Costa Rica we move forward from that. We say it’s not only green but it has a human face. That’s the most important part of it.

We have been promoting Costa Rica – not any particular destination but the whole country – and that’s why in a small country we have a 12-night stay average. For such a small country that is fantastic. Touristic dollars are spread across the country – this is what we believe in terms of tourism.

Chalkmarks: Caroline Moultrie

Caroline Moultrie, Managing Director, MMGY Hills Balfour

Patterns will emerge that will help sell holidays in 2021

Trends such as putting health first are already emerging that will shape the future of the industry. Other shifts include a move to travel by “invitation not inspiration”, whereby travellers select destinations where tourists are welcomed back by locals.

Aviation and tour operators will also have learned lessons and be able to react quickly to adapt to further Covid-19 outbreaks and regional lockdowns and not shut down, like in April where 97 per cent of air traffic stopped across Latin America.

The nut we have to crack is honing in on what it is that will help restart travel. 2021 is going to be pivotal year for everyone – the airlines particularly – but if we don’t get a strong 2021 the foundations for 2022 and beyond start to become more worrying. Trust is something we are picking up as the thing we need to capture, dissect and get our heads around. What does that look like in terms of confidence and health and all of these key words that we are seeing rise to the top in terms of consumer sentiment and what people are looking for to actually book?

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