Clarems Endara: Rethinking tourism in a post-pandemic world is a task that involves all of us

October 05, 2022
author: VENETUR
Clarems Endara: Rethinking tourism in a post-pandemic world is a task that involves all of us

In a pleasant interview, Ambassador Clarems Endara, Permanent Secretary of the Latin American Economic System (SELA), comments on the work that this important regional integration body has developed to reactivate tourism after the effects of COVID-19.

Does SELA have an economic agenda that addresses regional strategies for the post-pandemic reactivation of the countries that make up this integration body?

Aware of the challenges facing the region, SELA assumed its responsibility as a regional organisation to adapt its actions and establish priorities in accordance with the needs of its Member States. The year 2020 was a difficult one for the world economy, as the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the dynamics of the main macroeconomic variables of the countries. Global GDP fell by 3.1%, with European and Latin American countries being the most affected.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the containment measures taken to contain the COVID-19 virus led to the paralysis of economic activities in some countries during 2020, with real GDP in the region contracting by 7.0%. Thus, the weakness of economic activity and the health crisis prompted the adoption of measures that contemplated the design of strategies to stimulate sectors and subsidies for the reactivation of the countries.

Once these measures were put into practice, together with the start of vaccination campaigns at the regional level, the economies began to show signs of reactivation. Given this scenario, it was necessary to devise work strategies to boost strategic productive sectors, as well as tools to facilitate the design of effective public policies to promote the region's economic and social development.

In this connection, SELA prepared and is implementing a Work Programme for the period 2022-2026, as a result of a consultation and interaction process with the Member States, which resulted in a survey of priority issues that have made it possible to work on the construction of a regional agenda for integration and cooperation in order to achieve concrete results that contribute to the efforts to overcome economic and social backwardness.

The Work Programme is structured around three thematic areas: Economic Recovery, Digitalisation and Social Development, each of them pointing to goals, the fulfilment of which is based on specific objectives defined in a set of programmes, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the area of Economic Recovery, we are working on the implementation of three programmes: Economic Integration, Trade Facilitation and SMEs, and cultural industries are also part of SELA's work programme. It should be noted that the proposed programmes are considered key to support the economic recovery of Latin America and the Caribbean.

What has been the receptiveness of the Member States to implement the agenda?

SELA's Work Programme is the result of a process of consultation and interaction with the Member States. The structure of our plan incorporates a cross-cutting approach that considers the interrelationships and impacts between each of the proposed work axes. Thus, it identifies the existence of variables that can boost economic recovery, which are included in the activities associated with the digitalisation and social development areas.

The Work Programme establishes a comprehensive interconnection between its activities, which allows us to respond to the priorities identified in the consultation with member countries, as well as the attention to vulnerable groups, the gender and youth approach, and a special link with the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

How does SELA conceive the slogan “Rethinking Tourism”?

Rethinking tourism in a post-pandemic world is a task that involves everyone: governments, private actors and tourists, through a holistic view of caring for mother earth, but at the same time generating a productive capacity to improve the quality of life of populations.

This slogan stresses the need to recognise tourism as a crucial pillar in the development of countries, but also in a respectful way in its relationship with nature, due to the effect of climate change. Much has been said about the application of the Circular Economy and the Green Economy as a possible model to combine both purposes.

What role should tourism play as a factor for economic and social development in the member countries of SELA?

There is no doubt that tourism has great potential as a promoter of socio-economic development, directly in areas with tourist attractions and indirectly in the service provision chain. Moreover, in the last decade, it has been a highly dynamic component of international trade, considering that one out of every ten jobs in the world depends on tourism.

In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, international tourist arrivals fell 73% and in the first quarter of 2021 the world's destinations saw 180 million fewer international tourist arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. In that period, the region experienced a 71% reduction, according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

It should be noted that tourism has aroused the interest of governments in developing countries for its capacity to generate foreign exchange, favour private investment, the development of local businesses and job creation. It is also important to mention that after the recognition of tourism at the Earth Summit (1992) as one of the economic activities compatible with the conservation of the environment and natural heritage, it is now firmly integrated into the international agenda on sustainable development.

What challenges must we face in order to achieve satisfactory rates in the development of the tourism sector in the region, which will have an impact on the growth of the regional GDP?

The tourism sector was one of the most affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, mobility restrictions and then additional mobility costs limited the sector's recovery. The positive trend shown by the sector in the first quarter of 2022 was limited by the emergence of new virus variants.

It should be noted that the share of tourism in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the countries in the region is heterogeneous, being above 30% in most of the Caribbean and between 10% and 20% in Central and South America.


  • The main barrier to the development of tourism is the control of the pandemic to allow the safe mobility of people throughout the region. To that end, it is advisable to establish minimum health policies agreed at the regional level, in accordance with WHO and PAHO recommendations, as well as to improve vaccination schedules and make virus detection tests more affordable.
  • Another challenge is to provide financial support to the SMEs that make up the sector in order to ensure their solvency and survival. This can be through special loans, reduced interest rates or targeted subsidies.
  • Other structural barriers include improving air and land connectivity in the region, ensuring constant and secure availability.
  • Improving access to and quality of public services and service attitudes of operators.
  • Our countries face a great challenge and need to develop tourism infrastructure that can accommodate domestic and international tourists, while improving the living conditions of host communities and protecting the environment and biodiversity.
  • An important factor to consider is young people, who increasingly represent a significant proportion of tourism and who demand different or alternative conditions and resources to traditional ones. They are changing the way they interact with greater respect for the environment and are incorporating the use of intensive technology in their travel.
  • The incorporation of technological resources is an important challenge, which involves the offer of environmentally friendly experiences and implies investment in clean energy sources and proper waste management. In addition, offering easy means of payment that allow tourists to purchase goods and services quickly and from any mobile device is an important challenge.

Which of the region's products do you recommend promoting within the framework of sustainable nature tourism?

Sustainable products are those that have a low environmental and social impact and are ethically produced, since an important part is the benefit they generate for the environment, rather than the product itself. At the same time, they protect health and the environment throughout their life cycle, from the sourcing of raw materials to the disposal process.

These products are part of the sustainable development that seeks to achieve a progress capable of satisfying present needs, without compromising the needs of future generations, by reducing the impact that industry has on the environment.

Many products incorporate, partially or totally, sustainable practices in their production process and can be included in tourism services, offering visitors a socially responsible experience. For example: biodegradable cleaning or personal hygiene products, reusable packaging, among others.

However, there are also products or technological innovations that help preserve the environment and reduce the ecological impact of tourism activities, such as clean energy sources (solar, wind, among others), efficient water management, reuse and recycling of waste.

The inclusion of innovations and technologies in the tourism industry will be of vital importance in the coming years to achieve a sustainable and sustainable development of the sector, which not only offers a quality experience to travellers, but also reduces the environmental impact. Demand in this regard will tend to become more eco-friendly.