Published on February 20th, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
What I Learned From Latin Trade’s “Best of Travel 2013″ Awards
I recently worked on the 2013 “Best of Travel” awards for Latin Trade, the magazine and Website that focuses on doing business in Latin America.
As I assembled the expert panel, put together the questions and edited the section, I took note of a few important trends in the Latin America travel industry, especially in terms of what business travelers look for when they’re on the road.
Among my findings:
Loyalty programs are more important than ever: The vast majority of the top-ranking hotels in the “Best Hotels” categories belong to a major chain. Frequent travelers want and expect perks — and they stick to programs like Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors to get them.
Critical mass affects preference: In the “Best Airlines” categories, mega-carriers — especially LAN Airlines — consistently appeared at the top of the list. In this world of mergers and decreasing options, there are fewer airlines to favor.
Pan-Latin dominance is not consistent (yet): Even the largest airlines in Latin America are bigger in some regions than others. The same goes for rental car companies. Brazil-based Localiza is by some counts the largest rental car company in South America, but Avis Budget Group has a presence that stretches from Mexico to Argentina and Chile, while Enterprise Holdings has signed partnerships to introduce its Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental brands in Brazil and Uruguay. So who you book is likely to depend as much on where you’re going as which company you like best.
Latin American destinations still vary widely: In the “Best Destinations” categories, the “Best of Travel” awards underscored the vast differences in capital cities around Latin America. Airports, for example, for the most part got decidedly “average” ratings — but the Asunción airport ranked especially poorly, while the airports in Santiago de Chile, San Salvador and Panama City got better than average marks. When it comes to the ease of organizing a major convention, Asunción also scored the worst, while Guatemala City fared better than all the larger capital cities.
Meetings are big business: My report featured data from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), which showed that — according to its most recent rankings of the western hemisphere’s most important countries and cities in terms of international conventions — the USA outranked Latin American nations as a country overall, with 759 meetings in 2011 versus runner-up Brazil’s 304 events. But when broken down by city, the USA sinks to a tie for fifth place, behind Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Vancouver (and tied with Mexico City).
So what does this all mean? Are you likely to fly on an airline you don’t like, rent a car that’s not what you really want, and check into a hotel that’s not the nicest option, just because of your final destination and where your points and miles are? In some cases, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon hope — and I don’t think it means we should give up on independent companies and smaller brands, either. Competition is a good thing.
Stay tuned for more highlights of the best hotels, airlines and destinations, as ranked in Latin Trade’s annual “Best of Travel” awards. And please feel free to contact me with your own travel favorites. If you have especially strong opinions about a particular city in Latin America, please contact me and I might even interview you. After all, the more voices that sound off about the state of travel today, the better.