It has never been so easy to fly to Latin America or to get around by plane once there. LATAM and Avianca may be the biggest players, but it’s the no-frills carriers that are really ringing the changes, from Chilean carrier Sky Airline and Mexico’s Volaris to long-haul pioneer Norwegian Air. Meanwhile, according to a new study commissioned by LATA based on flight bookings up to 26 March 2019, the destinations most benefiting from an uplift in UK passengers include Uruguay (+38% year-on-year), Guyana (+26%), Argentina (+24%), Guatemala (+17%), and Ecuador (+15%). We spoke to two key players in aviation about the challenges and opportunities in the Latin American market.
Colin Stewart, Chairman of the Latin American Travel Association (LATA) and director, UK & Ireland, Air Europa
In the last couple of years, Latin America has welcomed a host of new flight routes that have made the region more accessible from the UK. British Airways led the way in 2016 with the launch of its direct service from London to San Jose, Costa Rica, followed by the introduction of services to Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile.
Avianca brought Colombia closer in 2017 when it launched its direct service from London to Bogotá. Air Europa has also played a key role by introducing flights to previously hard-to-reach destinations from the UK such as Honduras, Panama and Guayaquil, Ecuador via Madrid. Its Madrid-Puerto Iguazú route, commencing August, will become the first international service to Argentina’s Iguazú Falls.
In 2015, the UK was only connected to Latin America via direct flights from Heathrow. While airlines have started to develop direct connections from other major hubs in the UK, including Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, the options available are limited and still need to be improved. However, the entrance of lower-cost carriers such as Norwegian Airlines has opened up Latin America to a new demographic and given Argentina and Brazil a tourism boost. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic’s planned entry into São Paulo from the UK, scheduled for 2020, reflects a growing interest from major international players.
Latin America also has an extensive network of domestic flights, connecting more than 385 cities, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential. Last year marked a turning point, however, with the emergence of new low-cost airlines, including Norwegian Air Argentina and Flybondi in Argentina; Sky in Chile; and Viva Air Peru.
Many of our LATA tour operator members offer multi-destination trips that have been painstakingly crafted to provide a good balance of time and activities in each destination. This is a great option for first timers who can relax in the knowledge that they’re being looked after by experts.
Matthew Wood, SVP commercial long haul & new markets, Norwegian
Direct connectivity between the UK and Latin America went through a period of decline as economic dynamics and demand to the region changed. This left fewer carriers in the market, which subsequently pushed up prices. This situation has improved in recent years, though, as airlines have introduced new direct flights that break previously held monopolies.
Argentina and Brazil have for too long remained underserved from the UK, with only one carrier offering direct flights between London to Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro. The launch of Norwegian’s flights from Gatwick has opened up the market for consumers by lowering prices and offering a choice that was previously not available. In Argentina the creation of a new Norwegian domestic airline has further opened up the country.
Latin America is growing both in terms of business and leisure traffic and we see many opportunities for future development across the region from a number of our European bases. Norwegian doesn’t offer open-jaw ticket options, although it’s something we’re actively looking at.
Our ticket prices are based on one-way travel so visitors can truly take advantage of their trip by maximising the length of stay and departing from an alternative airport.
The advice for agents selling Latin America is simple — the region is open for business and now is the time to capitalise on this growth market. Whether it’s for leisure or business travel, the opportunities in Latin America are growing year on year and agents need to ensure they stay abreast of the latest hotel openings, tours and travel options in order to be able to offer their customers the best value and travel experience.