Travel and tourism in Latin America - statistics & facts

The unstable economic and political situation in many Latin American countries during the past years has not been an impediment for the expansion of the travel and tourism sector in the region. On the contrary, Latin America’s popularity as an attractive destination for travelers has grown since the beginning of the last decade. Between 2010 and 2018, the region experienced an increase of nearly 55 percent in international tourist arrivals. In 2019, Latin America was also the second favorite destination for leisure travel among locals, only topped by Europe. But among all countries, Mexico is the thriving force for the Latin American tourism sector. In 2018, the North American country was able to make up for the slight decrease registered in international arrivals to Central America and the Caribbean and maintain, along with South America, a positive trend for the whole region.

Tourism markets with soaring tourist arrivals tend to record a particularly large number of departures, too. With nearly 20 million international departures, Mexico was also the main source of outbound tourism from Latin America in 2018, followed by Argentina and Brazil. In terms of domestic travel spending, Mexico is by far the largest contributor to regional tourism. In 2018, the country accounted for over 40 percent of domestic tourism expenditure in Latin America and the Caribbean and it is expected to retain the highest share in domestic spending among all Latin American countries in the upcoming years.

Other Latin American countries also play very important roles in the travel and tourism economy of the region. When it comes to outbound tourism spending, for example, Brazil leads the way. In 2018, Brazilians spent almost 8.2 billion U.S. dollars more in international tourism than Mexican travelers, and around 9.1 billion U.S. dollars more than the Argentinians, the second and third biggest spenders in outbound tourism in Latin America, respectively. When asked what their main reason to travel is, most Latin Americans surveyed in a recent study said they were looking for leisure.

Smaller nations can show great travel figures too. On a global scale, the Caribbean dominates the tourism sector in terms of gross domestic product (GPD). The whole subregion – whose land areas altogether are smaller than those of Michigan, Romania or Laos – is home to ten of the 15 economies most reliant on tourism; and most specifically, cruise tourism, as the small region outperforms other world-renowned cruise markets. Continental Latin America, on the other hand, has a very different flair, as it has become increasingly attractive for backpackers and unconventional travelers, in part because of its affordable prices. Most of the cheapest cities for that kind of tourism in the region can be found in Central and South American countries, with the Ecuadorean capital of Quito at the top of the list.

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Travel and tourism in Latin America

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