Interview: Colin Stewart, Latin American Travel Association

Chairman outlines plans for this year’s virtual Expo and believes strong demand for the region will return

The Latin American Travel Association’s fifth expo will be virtual, but chairman Colin Stewart is confident of delivering an “event that adds great value to members”.

Covid-19 forced the association to rethink this year’s Lata Expo, previously known as Experience Latin America. So, for the first time, hundreds of Lata members will log in to watch sessions and meet suppliers and tour operators. The event will run from October 12-16.

Europe’s largest travel trade association dedicated to Latin America, Lata decided against postponing the event. Instead, following months of discussion, the organisers opted to extend this year’s expo from three to five days to encourage more members to ‘attend’.

Stewart, who is also Air Europa’s director for the UK and Ireland, admits planning the expo has not been easy. However, he believes it’s vital the event goes ahead.

He says: “The majority of people are desperate to get things up and running and the Lata Expo will be the first opportunity to do that. We felt there was a real need to kick-start the industry. We are confident that we can deliver a fit-for-purpose event that adds great value to members.”

Covid in region

Asked about the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America, Stewart says: “It is a very fluid picture at the moment.”

He contrasts the situation in Brazil, where Covid-19 deaths hit 100,000 this month, with that of neighbouring Uruguay, which the EU lists as a safe country.

Stewart suggests South America is about “60 days behind Europe” in fighting the virus.

To help members understand the situation across Latin America, Lata has created a Covid-19 resource centre with information about 10 countries and the safety protocols they have in place.

“We need to dispel the myths so that Latin America is not being judged on one or two places,” says Stewart.

Argentina and Colombia are expected to reopen their borders next month and Stewart believes this will encourage other countries to do the same and tourists to return to Latin America.

Travel demand

He says: “There is uncertainty and concern, but research shows that there is demand for traditional destinations, such as Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Colombia.”

Operators have indicated demand will return from January, he says, adding: “There will be opportunities from September, but that will depend on what each country does in terms of their borders.

“There is optimism around next year and people will be determined to get away.”

Future plans

Officials from different tourist boards have joined two recent seminars to identify ways to work together to promote the region, and plans for a third seminar are in the pipeline.

“We share data to get a picture of who is travelling to South America, why they are travelling and where they are from,” explains Stewart.

He says Lata wants to push the message that Latin America offers as much as Asia and Africa.

About 800 agents have completed Lata’s online travel training and Stewart says the trade is a “key piece of the jigsaw” for Lata.

Addressing agents directly, he says: “If you want to extend your portfolio beyond Africa, Asia and other travel markets, then South America is a fantastic destination.”

Lata has confirmed that next year’s expo will return as a face-to-face event in June at Battersea Evolution in London.

While Stewart is positive about this year’s virtual event, he is keen for Lata to return to something resembling normality as soon as possible.

“The Latin American community is very tactile and they love to be around each other,” he says.

“In 2021, we will be face-to-face – and we’re excited about that.”


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