Why does tourism boom in Latin America?

Image copyright EPA Image caption With overall US tourist numbers down to new lows, America’s open border policy of ‘proximity immigration’ is putting it in the spotlight

Twenty-one Mexican and Central American countries have joined forces to sign a pact to market and invest in tourism to the US.

The bloc is led by Costa Rica, which posted a 42% jump in US visitors in 2017, the BBC’s Beatriz Franco reports.

The other seven nations are part of a migrant caravan which made it to the US’s southern border in an effort to seek asylum.

They also helped to organise the signing ceremony in Mexico City.

Here’s a look at why tourism is on the rise in the Americas.

What’s driving the boom?

Between 2009 and 2018, there has been a 50% increase in visitors from Latin America to the US, which received 8.3 million overnight visitors from the region last year.

While this surge is largely seen as a boon to the US economy, and the travel industry, it does come with some limitations.

There are reports of tough border controls at peak periods of the year, as well as controversy around the US’s deportation policy.

The visit of migrants such as the migrant caravan is also being blamed for a downturn in overall US tourist numbers.

Mexico is the United States’ third-largest source of tourists, with nearly 2.4 million visitors from the country last year.

But with overall US tourist numbers down to new lows, America’s open border policy of “proximity immigration” is putting it in the spotlight.

What are Mexico’s main attractions?

It is this generosity that makes Mexico a top-rated destination for foreign travellers, says Beatriz Franco.

The big draw in Guanajuato, Mexico’s most populous state and one of the country’s more popular tourist destinations, is the Aztec ruins at Chichen Itza.

However, travellers can also experience some of the best experiences within its natural beauty, like the surrounding highland regions of central Mexico, the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, or the massive National Palace in the capital, Mexico City.

The groups in the caravan also made it to this heart of Mexico.

Why Central America is attractive?

Llorente Velasco, head of the El Salvador Tourism Board, suggests that the organisation of the caravan was a factor in boosting tourism to the region.

With more than 20 nations represented in the caravan, each country had its own agenda.

These include issues ranging from trade negotiations with the US to the protection of migrants, the BBC’s Beatriz Franco reports.

“For us in El Salvador it is important to preserve cultural values because many of our main tourist products are constructed within the context of a colonial and historical city,” Mr Velasco says.

“There are also indigenous cultures in our regions.”

How about the rest of the Americas?

In recent years, some countries in Central America have seen foreign tourism drop dramatically.

In Honduras, for example, it plummeted by 60% in 2017, as the country battled with political violence, climate change and income inequality.

In Nicaragua, it took a 15% hit.

Part of the problem is linked to perceptions about the region, says Alasdair William Thomas, a tourism and sociology lecturer at UC Irvine.

Image copyright Jorge Lago/Pacific Press Image caption For some countries in the region, foreign tourists are now seen as an unpopular luxury

“Much of the media surrounding the violence in Central America since the wars in the 1980s, media references to the Caribbean have particularly stigmatised tourist destinations, and much of that perception is founded on media narratives about the region’s history in the context of slavery.”

However, tourists from elsewhere in the Americas and Europe are increasingly visiting the region.

In 2017, Mexico received 14.2 million visitors from the Americas, and Colombia was second at 7.9 million.

Tourism is also vital to the economies of many of the countries.

Mr Velasco said: “In El Salvador, the sector is having a positive impact on the population, in terms of employment, poverty reduction and the creation of jobs and new business ideas.”

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