South America small but significant for Asian destinations

FEW travel companies in Asia have tapped the South American market despite impressive growth in arrivals to the region, though a small number are beginning to take the plunge.

Arrivals from Latin America to Thailand grew 26.6 per cent to 50,833 in the first eight months of 2012. However, this makes up just 0.35 per cent of 14,343,333 total arrivals through this period, a similar story across Asia.

Jenny Ryu, deputy chief of Seoul Convention Bureau, observes that group business from the continent, and Brazil in particular, has started to trickle into South Korea over the past few years. Groups usually comprise business travellers rather than leisure tourists. Given this trend, and the distance to market, the organisation has no firm plans to promote South Korea as a leisure destination in the immediate future.

“There is no master plan to approach the South American market because the volume of business is still too small. It’s really a secondary market because it’s too far to travel for a single trip,” she said.

However, Mario Anthony, director of Alshafq Tourism (LLC) in Dubai, has stumbled on a solution. “We are tapping inbound and outbound demand within the BRIC countries by offering extended trips for incentive clients from Brazil and Argentina to India, then UAE, and on to South-east Asia,” he said.

“South American companies are sending large incentive groups, including spouses, of up to 150 people. These are long-stay customers looking for high-end excursions and accommodation, and spend a lot on food and beverage.”

Anthony reports strong demand for incentive travel coming from major corporations like Sony and Pfizer, and suspects these regional offices have been sitting on their budgets for the last two years and are now ready to splurge to impress clients.

With outbound MICE from the region growing fast, he said: “We accidentally discovered this market very recently and are now trying to maximise potential as much as possible.”

Two of Thailand’s leading DMCs, Asia World and Destination Asia, are also starting to think about South America as a source market to help replenish stagnating arrivals from traditional western countries.

Kritsanee Srisatin, general manager at Destination Asia Thailand, said: “We touched base in South America only within the last year or so, but business is growing and we are looking to do more in the future.”

Both companies will likely work alongside the Tourism Authority of Thailand at roadshows across the continent next year.

Reporting by Timothy France

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