Many Latin American and Caribbean countries are strongly promoting their sustainable tourism markets and see eco-tourism as one of the main ways to attract foreign investment and create jobs.
Jamaica – which has a population of 2.89 million people and a GDP of $14.7bn – received 4.3 million foreign tourists last year, a 12% hike on the year before. This included 2.3 million stopover arrivals and 1.9 million cruise passengers. Last year, their spending totalled $3bn and is expected to surpass $3.3bn this year.
Spirit of adventure
“Tourism is growing very strongly in Jamaica,” said Edmund Bartlett, the country’s minister of tourism, during an interview at the World Travel Market (WTM), the international travel show, in London on 6 November.
“Eco-tourism is extremely important to the island. Adventure travel is also becoming very popular. Many young visitors are coming here to go kayaking or river rafting. Many tourists are looking for an ‘authentic experience’. They want to immerse themselves in local culture – the food, music, people and communities – and I believe Jamaica is a natural attractor with its rich heritage.”
He added that tourism provides 120,000 jobs directly and 300,000 indirectly. Around 15,000 new hotel rooms are expected to come on stream within the next three to five years.
“There is great scope for foreign investment in tourism,” adds Mr Bartlett. “This could be in new hotels or resorts or in infrastructure, including highways. Our main investors come from Canada and the United States but China and Mexico are also important investors.”
Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil are three South American countries that are also strongly promoting their sustainable tourism markets.
Bolivia received almost one million foreign tourists last year and around 65% of them came from other Latin American countries. Overall, foreign visitor numbers surged by 24% between 2012 and last year. Visitors from the US jumped by 86% and from Spain by 84%.
The tourism industry in Bolivia expanded by 143% between 2007 and 2017. Foreign and national tourists spent a total of $711m in 2017.
“Foreign tourists come to Bolivia principally to see the country’s natural beauty,” said Sergio Marcelo Aranibar De la Barra, co-ordinator of international markets at the country’s Ministry of Tourism, during an interview at WTM. “The Uyuni salt flats are the most popular tourist attraction in the country and a large number of eco-lodges have sprung up around them.
“The sustainable tourism market is already extremely important to Bolivia and I can only see it becoming more so in the future. The country has a large number of protected areas and young foreign tourists are also keen to visit the tropical and sub-tropical region called Yungas.”
Brazil – the biggest country in Latin America with a population of 209 million people and a GDP of around $2tn – received 6.58 million foreign tourists last year, slightly up on the 6.54 million total the year before.
“One of the government’s main objectives is to promote tourism to a wider number of destinations in Brazil,” said Bob Santos, the country’s national secretary for training and promotion of tourism, at the WTM event. “Currently, the country has three main destinations: Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo. However, we are keen to promote other destinations, including the caves and jungle around Bonito in Mato Grosso do Sul state.”
Ecuador receives around 1.7 million foreign tourists a year and the market is expanding by between 10% and 12% a year. Its main tourist attractions include the Galapagos Islands and the Andes mountains.
“Eco-tourism is very big in Ecuador,” says Jose Luis Egas Ramirez, the under-secretary of markets, investment and international relations at the country’s Ministry of Tourism. “In many ways, Costa Rica is a good model for us in terms of its sustainable tourism strategy.”