TravelMart Latin America

Travel Agent was on location in Quito, Ecuador, for the 32nd annual TravelMart Latin America, which produces some great industry news and introduces emerging Central and South America destinations to the world. Here are some of the details we learned and things we experienced.

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An aerial view of Quito, Ecuador, site of this year's TravelMart Latin America

Ecuador’s Time to Shine

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The opening ceremony of the 32nd annual TravelMart Latin America in Quito

The opening ceremony’s biggest news came from a speech delivered by the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa Delgado, in which he told attendees that Ecuador has tripled its tourism budget from $7 million in 2007 to $23 million in 2008. He projects a whopping $37 million budget in 2009.

The show floor opened the following morning, and Travel Agent had the opportunity to speak to the creator of TravelMart Latin America, William H. Coleman, to find out just how impressive the turnout was. Coleman told us that the show had about 1,000 suppliers and buyers with about 8,000 appointments scheduled before the show started and more last-minute appointments were expected. He added that this was the fifth time Ecuador has hosted the event since its inception 32 years ago. Ecuador last hosted the event in 2003 and may host the event every five years from here on out, Coleman told us. The host destination must wait five years after it hosts a TravelMart in order to host another one. Coleman said he is looking into naming Ecuador the host in 2013.

Barcelo to Open First Property in Guatemala, Second in Nicaragua

We sat down with Florencia Carbonell, sales manager for Barcelo Langosta Beach, and learned that Barcelo Hotels and Resorts will be opening its first property in Guatemala and its second in Nicaragua. Both properties are tentatively scheduled to open in 2009 and will each have between 120-150 rooms. For more information, agents should contact Carbonell at 011-506-220-2034, ext. 768 or [email protected].

Sonesta to Open Property in Medellin, Colombia in 2010

It was a year ago at TravelMart Latin America in Cartagena, Colombia, that we learned the destination was soon to be a Latin America tourism giant. Since then, Cartagena and Bogota have increased significantly in tourism and we now learn that Medellin is next. Sonesta Hotels will open a 125-room hotel in the city in 2010, says Juan Rodriguez Medina, marketing and sales director for GHL Hoteles, which manages such companies as Sonesta, Sheraton and Howard Johnson, to name a few. The destination also recently unveiled a Radisson Hotel. We expect more airlift and hotels to set up shop here within the next few years. Keep it on your radar.

Belize to Get Marriott and Rosewood?

We’re not big on reporting rumors, but when they come from the director of the Belize Tourism Board, we feel it’s credible enough to report. Mariam Roberson, Belize’s tourism director, told us the destination is looking into adding a Marriott hotel, as well as a Rosewood. Roberson told us the plans are “pure hearsay that’s coming just from me,” but we figured we’d share it in the event that it comes to fruition. We think there’s a good chance that luxury brands like Rosewood will in fact develop in Belize because it appears that is the way the destination is heading. It recently added a new marketing firm and plans to focus its attention on the luxury, wedding destination and honeymoon destination markets. We’ll keep you posted when we have more details.

Cartagena Proves Hosting TravelMart Is Worth It

We sat down with Zully Salazar Fuentes, manager of leisure tourism for ProExport, Colombia’s tourism board, and learned that the city has benefited immensely from hosting last year’s TravelMart Latin America. For example, last year the destination conducted about 10 business appointments on the first day of the event. On the first day of this year’s event, it conducted nearly 25, Fuentes says. “Last year, we felt that many people may have heard something about Colombia, but we didn’t really feel like there was much interest,” she told us. “This year, everyone knows us as an exotic destination and needs to know about us. Last year, they wanted to know. This year, they tell us they need to know because everyone is asking.” Cartagena also saw a major boost to its cruise industry about 15 days ago when Disney Cruise Line called in Cartagena for the first time. Fuentes told us Cartagena received about 1 million visitors last year. As of July, it had already received 800,000 visitors, putting it well on pace to breaking its 2007 numbers.

Why Agents Should Know Puerto Varas, Chile

TravelMart Latin America

Buyers and suppliers meet and do business on the TravelMart Latin America show floor

Coleman told us one of the main factors in picking the show’s host location is whether that destination is serious about tourism. After we sat down with Bettina Holzmann, director of the meeting and planning company Meet Inn Patagonia, we learned why Patagonia, Chile, was chosen as the host for next year’s event. Although the actual show will take place in the small town of Frutillar, nearby Puerto Varas, in the Patagonia region of the country, will host most of the events. Puerto Varas certainly meets the needs Coleman told us about. In fact, two of the host hotels for next year’s event haven’t even opened yet and another just opened about a year ago. Sol Meliá, Patagonia opened its doors about a year ago while Enjoy Hotel & Casino and Colones Del Sol, both in Puerto Varas, will open in December. The event is expected to boost attention to the little-known southern portion of Chile. Attendees will fly to Santiago, Chile, where they will connect on a nearly two-hour flight to Puerto Montt. Puerto Varas is a mere 10-minute drive from Puerto Montt. The destination, like most Latin America getaways, offers eco- and soft-adventure travel. Since Cartagena—and now Quito—is building steam from hosting TravelMart Latin America, expect Patagonia to do the same. Start learning about it now, so you’re prepared when adventure-seeking clients come knocking on your door asking about it. Southern Chile will be absolutely huge in 2009 and beyond. An official web page is expected to launch in about eight weeks with further details for the event, which will run from September 23-25, 2009. When we get them, we’ll pass them along.

See more of what Latin America has to offer your clients in the video below: 

Post-Show: A Day at Tierra Del Volcan

What Travel Agent experienced the day following TravelMart Latin America might be the best soft-adventure excursion we will ever experience.

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Tierra Del Volcan provides adventure seekers with zipline rides above Ecuador forests and mountains

You must tell clients about Tierra Del Volcan when booking an Ecuador vacation. The feedback you get will be extraordinary. Tierra Del Volcan is a hacienda/soft-adventure business that surrounds some mind-boggling volcanic landscapes including the infamous Cotopaxi, which is considered to be the world’s largest active volcano. Your clients will partake in a one-of-a-kind and little-known cultural experience.

The three haciendas are quaint, cozy and genuine and offer a glimpse into authentic Ecuadorian culture, from the colonial-style kitchen to the food and clothing worn by the waitresses. But your clients should come here primarily for the adventure. There are canopy tours, where clients will zip across rivers and trees, and horseback riding up to the top of a mountain, where a breathtaking view of the country awaits.

We left for Tierra Del Volcan in the morning from our host hotel, The Swissotel in Quito. The ride, which is incredibly bumpy for the last third of the way because the roads are rocky and worn, is just shy of about two hours, depending on the driver. We were lucky enough to have Tierra Del Volcan owner Jorge Perez, who was like Ecuador’s Indiana Jones, give us a personal lift so we made it in an hour.

When we arrived, Perez’s guides attended to us and other guests, securing harnesses and strapping on helmets to prepare us for arguably the biggest thrill an adventure seeker can get in Latin America. We began hiking to our first of five ziplines. The hike is only challenging because the altitude might make you short-winded a little quicker than usual. In fact, Tierra Del Volcan is the highest point in Ecuador, so your clients should drink a lot of water and perhaps take some antibiotics beforehand to avoid any sickness, which is usually just a stomach ache or headache. Clients staying only for the day probably won’t have to worry about it, because it isn’t enough time for the body to realize the drastic change in altitude. Minus the altitude, the upside is that your clients will probably inhale the freshest air their lungs have ever taken in.

If your clients get a bit tired from trekking uphill, their anticipation will take them the rest of the way until they reach the first of seven ziplines. When we arrived at the first one, Perez gave us some simple instructions, such as not gripping the line but rather placing your hand over it to allow it to slide between your palms, which were obviously gloved. He also told us why we shouldn’t be afraid: The line can carry 8,500 pounds and that there was an emergency harness for the primary harness, which was highly unlikely to break.

We went second in our group. As we took off, hundreds of feet above the ground, all we could do was laugh. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, the nerves or the surreal feeling that we were ziplining near five volcanoes, over trees and a river in Ecuador while our friends at home most likely hadn’t gotten out of bed yet. Like most of the ziplines, it took only about 20 seconds, although it felt a little longer.

We did four more of these, including two where we did perhaps the craziest act we’ve done on an adventure trip—zipline upside down. Like the other ziplines, Perez gave us some simple instructions and explained how to flip upside down when cruising along the line. As soon as you take off, you release your left hand from the harness, your right from the line and fall backwards until you are completely vertically upside down. It was scary and it would have been borderline terrifying had we not known in the back of our minds that we were safe.

Following the tour, we drove to El Porvenir, one of Perez’s three haciendas, where we were treated to an authentic Ecuadorian lunch. We had quinoa soup, a cereal-type, fiber-filled soup with chunks of potatoes. Our main dish was a salad with trout plucked fresh from the local lakes and llapingachos, which are potato patties filled with cheese. We washed it down some naranjilla juice, a sweet, thick, greenish juice made from a local fruit. When it is heated and mixed with sugar cane liquor, it makes a drink called canelazo. Beware of these. They are so tasty they seem harmless, but are actually pretty strong.

We allowed time for the food to digest before we tackled our next adventure—horseback riding on Criollo horses along the Ruminahui volcano, which provides a huge variety of breathtaking landscapes, from high mountain forests to river canyon ridges and high-altitude lakes. We threw on ponchos and traditional Ecuador riding pants that Perez provided, along with cowboy hats, before listening to yet again another simple set of directions provided by Perez. We rode a Criollo named Hercules, first slowly trotting down a long scenic path before cantering up the hill. Again we laughed our way up the top, where we stopped, peered across the valley and gazed at one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen—green pastures, mountaintops and the eerie but beautiful Cotopaxi volcano.

Usually Tierra Del Volcan will not recommend doing two tours in one day, but Perez made an exception for us. The canopy tours are surprisingly inexpensive; prices range from only $10 to $25 per person, which depends on how many ziplines your clients want to ride. The horseback riding is offered at either 9:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. daily and clients have the option of doing anywhere from one-hour to seven-hour rides. A client staying in Quito can have an excellent day like we did, but we recommend spreading the adventure out a bit and staying about three to four days.

Tierra Del Volcan is offered through most major Latin America tour operators including Clark Tours and Klein Tours. Agents should contact Perez at [email protected] or [email protected].