Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

1 Sep, 2013

In First Meeting, Latin American, Asian NTOs Swap Ideas to Boost Inter-Regional Travel

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – Travel & tourism linkages between Asia and Latin America are set to gain momentum as a result of the first high-level meeting between their senior tourism officials on the sidelines of the 20th UNWTO General Assembly on 27 August 2013.

The meeting, jointly promoted by the UNWTO and the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), was designed to help the two sides become better acquainted with their respective tourism situations and identify ways to boost connectivity, travel and visa facilitation, promotion, multi-destination tourism, product development and market intelligence, among others.

Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil was the only Asia-based travel journalist invited to cover the UNWTO’s 20th General Assembly.

Ibero-America refers to the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Americas plus Spain, Portugal and Andorra in Europe.

The meeting was attended by Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti (observer) and Spain, Portugal and Andorra. The Asian side included China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Laos, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, Maldives and Cambodia.

Although no specific initiatives were identified, the meeting set the stage for further exploration of creative ideas on how to take the relationships forward, said Mr. Xu Jing, Regional Director UNWTO AsiaPacific.

He noted that global travel flows are dominated by travel from the mature economies and within the regions. The next generation of growth had to come amongst the South-South countries and from the emerging economies.

Essentially, this will allow three of the five BRICS countries to boost travel contacts. The Latin American countries are keen to tap the market potential of India and China and the ASEAN countries. In turn, the Asia-Pacific countries want to tap the potential of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Peru, amongst others.

A background document prepared by the UNWTO Secretariat said that although Asia and Ibero-America account for a combined total of 36% of total world international tourist arrivals, travel flows between the two regions are negligible.

This, in spite of the fact that their socio-economic development and political stability, along with rising income levels with the emergence of a new middle class, have brought substantial growth in their tourist flows, both inbound and outbound.

Tourism flows between them “have not mirrored the increase in economic, commercial and political relations between the two regions,” the document says.

“Consequently, there is enormous potential for growth in tourism that should be harnessed for the benefit of their economies and better knowledge and understanding among the countries of both regions, by using and enhancing the different integration and cooperation mechanisms that currently exist.”

Inter-regional travel is so small that there is not even enough data on it. Says the background paper, “No consistent data is available on arrivals from the Asian countries to the group of Ibero-American countries.” In Ibero-American destinations, visitors from the Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East combined represents a fractional 2% to 3% of the total arrivals.

Like with all travel-promoting activities, the future potential depends on the FAM formula: Facilitation, Accessibility and Marketing.


The background paper says that for many travellers from Asia and Ibero-America, visa processes are still too complicated, expensive and time-consuming. “This is a major obstacle to tourism growth and one that needs to be addressed with the upmost urgency.” Some visa-waiver agreements are being negotiated and need to be expedited.


There are very few direct routes between the two regions, a problem which could be addressed via open skies policies and increased contacts between the airline alliances. In one case, China and Costa Rica are moving forward towards an open sky agreement.


Destinations and companies in Asia and Ibero-America will only be able to tap their respective markets once they fully understand the behaviour and mind-set of travellers from both regions. This can lay the foundation for marketing strategies to identify potential markets and cater for customers’ evolving preferences and tastes.

Increasingly, multi-destination packages can be an efficient and profitable tool to attract visitors. Some good examples are: the Mayan route, which includes Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize; The Inca Trail, joining Peru to the neighbouring countries and the Missions route in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. In Asia, these can include the Greater Mekong Sub-region or the Silk Road countries.

Some initiatives discussed in the background paper were:

  • Research and exchange of best practices; sharing experiences and lessons learnt between the two regions.
  • Capacity-building and implementation of exchange programmes for travellers and tourism professionals.
  • Private and public partnerships to encourage and foster new regional destination management and branding strategies.

The background paper also urges taking advantage of large sports events such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

Said Mr. Carlos Vogeler, the UNWTO Regional Director for the Americas, “The most important thing was that for the first time, ministers and senior officials from both sides were alerted to the need for some sort of future roadmap.”

He said that because of UNWTO’s extensive experience in rallying forces of different regions under one umbrella, the next step would be to facilitate cross-participation in the meetings of each others’ UNWTO Regional Commissions and then create specialised working groups to discuss each of the problem areas.

Such cross-participation will allow the regions to break out of their silo mentalities. The joint meetings could be held at global and regional travel shows, and involve the private sector, in addition to the UNWTO General Assembly, Mr. Vogeler said.