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Peruvian Tourism Earns $10-Billion Yearly

Nature has always worked in Peru’s favor: its coastline makes for abundant fishing, diverse geography makes for excellent agriculture, and its gold supplies make it one of the world’s biggest producers of the precious metal. But it’s nature in its untouched form that’s proven the most lucrative so far for one of the fastest-growing economies in South America.

Tourism accounts for 6% to 7% of Peru’s gross domestic product (GDP) today, up from just over 3% in 2007, according to the country’s Central Reserve Bank. The industry generates some 30 billion soles (US$10.6 billion) a year, according to National Tourism Chamber director Carlos Canales.

This doesn’t include informal tourism by unregistered companies, outside heavily advertised activities such as sports, dining, and sight-seeing, according to Canales. When taken into account, these would increase the numbers by a further 50%.

Internal tourism has also gone up significantly from 2007, as locals opted for domestic travel rather than jetting off to pricey overseas destinations. Some 12 million Peruvians visit popular sites every year, with activity spiking during holidays, and spend between 350 and 370 soles ($124 to $131) per trip. Foreign tourists spend an average of $1,100 each in the country.

Canales says he expects the trend to continue in 2011, rising by at least 15% in the domestic sector. Sites like Machu Picchu, the Cordilleras, the Nazca Lines, and Lake Titicaca continue to be popular, although up-and-coming destinations are also set to welcome more visitors this year.

For instance, Ayacucho, a town in the southern stretch of the Peruvian Andes, is expecting some 17,000 visitors over the Easter weekend—7% more than last year. Ayacucho trade and tourism head Juan Carlos Arango says it is especially popular among religious travelers, who visit its 33 churches (each representing a year in Jesus’ life) as part of Easter practice. The town’s name is Quechua for “death corner.”

Rooms are already fully booked until Easter Sunday, according to Ayacucho’s hotel sector representatives. Over the weekend, daily processions depicting Christ’s life take place on the streets followed by thousands of spectators.

Peru Travel Mart, a yearly convention of business and government executives in the tourism industry, is set to take place from May 15 to 16 in Lima. Canales expects to close as much as $54 million worth deals at the event, three times last year’s total. Delegates include buyers, sellers, and businesses from all over South America, as well as Poland, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States.