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Latin America: Opportunities, culture and why it pays to get out there


Gaby Castro-Fontoura of Sunny Sky Solutions tells us why Latin America is full of business opportunities for those prepared to make the effort

Travelling to Latin America from the North East of England is not easy. It’s not cheap either. I know about that. I did it enough times myself. Yet companies take the time and spend the money to visit our region on a regular basis. Why?

First of all, there’s business to be done in Latin America. Markets like Chile, Peru, Brazil or Argentina can be very appealing in terms of sales but also in terms of procurement and partnerships. Sectors like agriculture, livestock, mining, construction, energy, food processing and packaging, logistics, education and others in Latin America are consuming European products and services every second. If Latin America is on your radar, you’ll know why. If it isn’t, we will discuss it in our next post, but do some quick scoping and you will very likely find that your global competitors are already in at least some of these markets.

Even before you know the potential of Latin America for your business, travelling to the region can be the icing on the cake of your market research. Once we gather information, data, stats, and contacts, nothing, absolutely nothing beats a visit to the region, to truly understand the potential and generate the contacts and the intelligence that you will need in the short and medium terms. This will maximise the benefits from your research but will also minimise the risks of your expansion: you will know if the region is ready for you and if you are ready for it only once you’ve been here. This is particularly important if you are going to invest for example on a new person to cover the region, or on intellectual property, regular trips or a trade show.

You can use a trip to the region to gather intelligence, build contacts, find local partners, understand the idiosyncrasies, explore synergies between markets, and think outside the box: come up with routes to market, for example, that you hadn’t even considered, like a free trade zone in Uruguay to tackle Brazil.

However, one could argue that, even if there is potential, it would possible to explore or tackle these markets remotely (from your offices in the North East, Spain or Miami, for example). Well, no.

The barrier here is mainly cultural: business in Latin America is highly personal and very much relationship-based. Doing business solely by email in Latin America (or WhatsApp, which is the tool to master, by the way) is almost impossible, particularly not to start with and, depending on the sector, country and age-groups you work with, it might never be. People need to see you, to shake hands, to see if they can trust you. Remember we are used to ups and down here more than you are in the UK, and what helps people navigate this is their network, not a government they will never trust or a system they can’t rely on.

Also, we are sussing you out: you want to do business with us? Then, show us your commitment. A market visit is a signal that you care and that you are willing to invest in the long-term. You are serious. Therefore, you will always be preferred to that competitor that didn’t bother. So visiting is, as I always say, also a matter of competitive advantage.

And take note: if you are a decision-maker thinking about delegating Latin America trips to someone more junior, think again. If you want to meet your equals here, if you want to speak to the movers and shakers, they will not speak to your junior and, even if they did, they will not disclose as much information. Would you? Think how you would feel if this all happened the other way round.

I can share lots and lots of numbers, pictures and videos about Latin America with you. They will only make sense if you travel around and see the region, observe the realities, speak to people. Whether you are considering the region for your next move, undertaking research, looking for partners, supporting your operations, trying to grow your existing business in the region more proactively or solving particular problems, nothing beats a trip. Buckle up and enjoy.

Gabriela Castro-Fontoura is Director at based in Montevideo, Uruguay (you can also follow here on twitter @uklatinamerica)