By Colleen Isherwood
Although I have attended many investment conferences in Canada and the U.S., it's the first time I have been to the South American Hotel Investment Conference (SAHIC), held the last two days in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Here's my take on the hotel world viewed from the equator.
Canada seems very far away, though we did receive some mentions at the conference. Everyone is excited about the potential for tourism in Cuba, with a Cuban delegation providing the grand finale to the conference, toasted with Mojitos by the delegates.
Of course, the bar graph showing inbound tourism before the U.S. announcement had one huge bar for Canada and several much smaller bars for European countries. About a million and a half Canadians visit Cuba each year, but other countries are just now discovering it. The bars on the graph will be quite different in coming years.
The Cuban government plans to expand its hotel inventory by 4,500 rooms per year from the current tally of 378 properties with 65,770 rooms, and to increase the number of golf courses from two to 13 in the next few years, with a buildout of 27 in the longer term.
In 2017, there will be two SAHICs, including one in Havana, Cuba, May 15-16 and another in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept. 13-14.
Countries such as Ecuador are also courting Canadian and American retirees with new condo-hotel resorts. At press time, I was about to set out on a tour of some of those Ecuadorian properties, and will report back in the November issue of the magazine.
In Canada, news about Latin America has focused on the Zika virus, the Ecuador earthquake in April and developments in Brazil including the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, the World Cup and the Olympics. Other news stories included new presidents in Argentina and Peru, and the La Paz accord in Colombia, signed during the SAHIC conference.
Arturo Garcia Rosa, founder and president of SAHIC, and Patricia Boo of STR noted the North American press has had a huge impact on South American tourism. Coverage of the Ecuador earthquake made it look as though the whole country was devastated. In the case of Zika, the actual effect on South American tourism was not nearly as profound as H1N1 was in Mexico a few years back.
What came through loud and clear during two View from the Top panels featuring executives from global brands, was that the majors are working hard to round out their global offerings in Latin America, that the market has great potential as well as challenges, and that the brands all have plans for robust growth in the region over the next several years.