Business, Finance & Economics

South America rises as top tourism destination


Tourists climb Mayan ruins in Mexico.



LIMA, Peru —  South America saw a 10 percent increase in tourism arrivals during 2011, outperforming all other destinations in the world, according to new United Nations statistics.

Overall, Latin America saw arrivals rise 4 percent, just behind Europe which saw a 6 percent increase, said the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

However, South America was the best performing of any of the “sub-regions” in the study.

Brazil appeared to fare particularly well, with tourist spending rising 32 percent during the year, the report’s authors noted.

Meanwhile, the much-hyped centenary of the “rediscovery” of Peru’s Machu Picchu also saw an increase in visitors to the spectacular Inca Citadel, one of Latin America’s most popular tourist destinations.

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By spending their cash locally, those travellers are helping to fuel economic development, often in remote poverty-stricken parts of the continent.

Nevertheless, Latin America’s tourism industry continues to wrestle with key issues, including a lack of basic infrastructure, operators attempting to rip off travelers, high violent crime rates, and unregulated tourism development.

And treading the delicate balance between offering good services to visitors without becoming a tourist trap remains a challenge. Several of Latin America’s tourism hotspots, including Aguascalientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu, and Mexico’s Caribbean resort of Playa del Carmen, are growing chaotically, potentially threatening the idyllic nature that attracts visitors to those destinations.

“Travel facilitation is closely interlinked with tourism development and can be key in boosting demand,” said UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai.

“This area is of particular relevance in a moment in which governments are looking to stimulate economic growth but cannot make major use of fiscal incentives or public investment.”

Overall, global tourism arrivals grew 4.4 percent, to 980 million. The industry now employs one in 12 workers around the world and accounts for 5% of the global economy.

The UNWTO predicted that global arrivals would grow by 3-4 percent during 2012, despite the economic downturn.