Research by GlobalData has revealed that international travel to South America plummeted from 35 million visitors in 2019 to a mere 3.3 million in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic—meaning that the region missed out on around $49.2 billion* in tourism spend over the two years.
The leading data and analytics company notes that, following these disastrous few years, 2022 has seen a rather sudden return of international visitors, and the region should return to just over the levels it reached in 2019 by 2024.
GlobalData’s latest report, ‘South America Destination Tourism Insight Report, 2022 Update’, reveals international tourism will recover to 35.5 million visitors by 2024, with tourism expected to bring in $32.9 billion in the same year While the COVID-19 restrictions have now been largely removed or relaxed, the country still faces significant obstacles in the form of unstable political climates, lack of destination marketing, accessibility, and affordable air connectivity.
Hannah Free, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “South America has seen huge shifts in visitor numbers in 2022, with the region already showing clear signs of recovery. The effect has been particularly great in this region, as it was typically slower to remove travel restrictions than countries in the Middle East and Europe. Hotels, airports and tourist destinations may struggle with the sudden influx of demand as has been seen in some parts of Europe.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions persisting in 2021, Colombia saw growth in international tourism numbers—in part thanks to the Disney movie Encanto, which shone a light on the country’s natural and cultural highlights. International arrivals to Colombia increased by 11% year-on-year (YoY), overtaking Brazil and Argentina to become the most visited South American destination in 2021.
Meanwhile, Guyana was the only other South American country to experience growth in international arrivals in 2021, as tourism numbers increased by 16.4% YoY. Guyana’s geographic location, coupled with its historical connection to the Caribbean, makes it an ideal place for cruise, beach, adventure, cultural and nature tourism. However, Guyana’s tourism potential is hindered by weak brand identity, inconsistency in marketing and promotional investments, and the relatively low quality of connectivity to the country, meaning that flights are often costly.
Free adds: “South America’s regional tourism performance is also held back by poor infrastructure. International arrivals to South America are disproportionally low due to underdeveloped air transport infrastructure, as well as a lack of low-cost airline options, which undermines accessibility. However, GlobalData’s Construction Projects Database shows that there are 59 airport infrastructure projects that are active across South America, which will be key to facilitating tourism growth.”
*This figure is based on a presumption that 2020 and 2021’s inbound tourism figures would be the same as 2019 levels. $11.7 billion was then removed to account for the inbound spend actually gained in 2020 and 2021