LATIN America is attracting more UK holidaymakers than ever. With product to suit virtually any customer, it is a lucrative region for agents to sell.


According to Iberia, the carrier that takes the largest volume of passengers between Europe and Latin America, overall demand for seats on all scheduled flights to the region’s cities is well up on last year.


Bookings for Rio de Janeiro in Brazil are up 17% year on year and bookings to Chile are up 15%.


Also, the region is increasingly a target for mass market operators, with all of the big four now selling holidays to Brazil and First Choice offering trips to Costa Rica for the first time from next year.


But is the retail trade seizing the opportunity Latin America presents? And if not, why?


Step forward the experts…


 



Edward Paine, chairman, Latin America Travel Association
Lloyd Boutcher, director, Sunvil Latin America
Raymond Blok, leisure sales manger, Iberia
Rodolfo Milesi, Branding Latin America Project, Chime Communications
Chris Pickard, Brazil consultant (ex-director Brazilian Tourist Office, now at DBA PR)


 



Agents




Raymond Blok


Lloyd Boutcher
Lloyd Boutcher


Ed Paine
Ed Paine


Chris Pickard
Chris Pickard


Rodolfo Milesi (left)
Rodolfo Milesi (left)


Key Finding: Latin America offers huge variety and is a high commission earner, but agents need more training and educationals to become enthused and knowledgeable about its destinations.


The debate: “What motivates agents most is commission,” said Boutcher. “A booking through an LATA member could generate the agent up to £650 in commission – if agents can wake up to that they will see the future in selling Latin America is bright.”


However, Boutcher admitted agents need a trigger to sell Latin America and called on tourist boards and airlines to support operator-led agent fams: “£400 is around the maximum you could ask an independent agent to pay to go on a fam.


“But who is going to pay the rest? For an operator to take a group of 10 agents to Latin America you are talking about £6,500.


“If I were running tourist boards for countries such as Brazil or Argentina, I would be taking out up to 75 AITO specialist agents at a time, familiarising them with the product, and exciting them.”


Iberia leisure sales manager Raymond Blok said he had recently taken part in call- centre training and would like to roll out further courses for agents across the country.


“Those who attended the training event had to see every stand and it got them excited about the destination. That’s something I want to develop.”


Latin America Travel Association chairman Ed Paine said agents’ knowledge barriers can be overcome by working with operators. “Agents are going to have to rely on a tour operator, develop a relationship with them and put the client in touch with that operator.”


Tourist boards


Key finding: higher-profile Latin America tourist boards representation is needed to help exploit increasing interest from the UK market. Although tourist boards are stepping up their activity in the UK, marketing levels are still lagging behind rivals such as Asia and Australia.


The debate: Rodolfo Milesi, who founded the Branding Latin American project and leads the public relations campaigns for several Latin American countries including Argentina, said: “Latin America tourist boards are focusing more on the UK market for reasons such as the level of spend of British visitors, who often stay in five-star hotels. In the last two years countries such as Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil have begun working with PR and advertising agencies.”


The Brazilian Tourist Office has also just restructured its travel trade department with the aim of stepping up agent activity to include roadshows, workshops, materials for window displays and even sales referrals. It is asking agents keen to sell the destination to register their interest.


However, both Sunvil Latin America director Lloyd Boutcher and Iberia leisure sales manager Raymond Blok said they had struggled to get tourist board support for trade events.


“Colombia and Mexico helped with a recent event we held, but the rest were indifferent,” said Blok.


Boutcher added: “Even if the country has an embassy in the UK, there isn’t the budget to help cater for a travel agent training event.”


Pickard added agents felt more comfortable selling a destination with tourist office representation in the UK.


Although the panel acknowledged the UK has closer cultural ties to destinations such as Australia, which helps boost holidaymaker interest, it called on Latin American tourist boards to establish a more consistent UK presence and employ staff with experience in the travel trade.


The ex-director of the Brazil Tourist Office Chris Pickard said: “Latin America has to learn that tourism shouldn’t be political and all the people running their tourist boards should be from the travel industry rather than somebody’s uncle who needs a job.


“Tourist boards sometimes seem to be a dumping ground for people’s relatives, who haven’t got a clue [and who tend to ignore the international markets]. I have sat in a hotel in Rio and seen a TV advert for Brazil – but that ad isn’t on in the UK.”


Boutcher said: “It is about consistency of contact, rather than officials coming over every 15 months and making a big splash.”


Pickard added: “If they’re going to spend money, they should speak to operators and find out what they need.


“At World Travel Market, Latin American countries’ stand space is enormous. But the minister comes over, has his picture taken on the stand and they think that’s enough.”


Airlines


Key finding: more seats, routes and promotional spend from scheduled airlines are needed.


The debate: Iberia is the main operator of flights between Europe and Latin America, but Blok admitted that when another carrier starts flying one of its routes, bookings are only temporarily hit before rising again because there is so much demand – particularly since September 11 when lengthy immigration checks have put passengers off travelling to Latin America via the US. Both LATA and the Argentine Tourist Office are trying to persuade British Airways to launch more routes.


Boutcher said the UK market can’t rely on Iberia and it needs more routes from alternative European hubs to Madrid, which can get extremely busy.


The panel also called on airlines to spend more promoting Latin America and support fam trips by providing seats for agents.


Iberia’s marketing department is in Spain and Blok said: “We do our best within the restrictions of our budgets, which have to be used for a range of activities.”


Charter market


Key finding: a cautious welcome has been given to the expanding charter market into Latin America, but its growth needs to be properly managed.


The debate: the mass market brings promotional clout and budget, which benefits the whole industry. Pickard said: “When Airtours went into Brazil in 1999 the campaign was fantastic. Suddenly the destination was on programmes such as GMTV.”


A charter holiday can also inspire a traveller to explore the destination further, said Paine.


However, Pickard believes once the charters go into a destination such as Natal in Brazil, it can become tagged as a charter destination and make it harder for the specialist operators to sell.


“You don’t want to get the tourists who will decide whether to go to Brazil or the Dominican Republic because one is £20 cheaper than the other,” he said, adding that when the tourist board supports a charter flight over a scheduled flight, it needs to consider how much the passenger on each flight will boost the local economy once they are there.


Cruise market


Key finding: the cruise market to Latin America is growing. However, its growth needs to be managed so that the ships’ impact on the destinations is minimised.


The debate: “The first large cruise ship has been allowed into the Galapagos, but we don’t know if it is a permanent arrangement,” said Paine. “That is fine for the cruise company – it will do well. However, particularly in these days of sustainable tourism, countries have to be very careful. There are small countries in the Caribbean that have been ruined by the cruise market and get no benefit out of cruise passengers whatsoever.”