10 Great Places to Start a Tourism Business Overseas

A dive shop in Caribbean Mexico? A jazz bar in Panama City? If you've got a good idea and an entrepreneurial streak, the opportunities are unlimited.

International Living
start a business abroad, work overseas
Panama is a great place to start a tourism business
Photograph: International Living

Best described as a sleepy little fishing town, “Pedasi by the Sea” is clean and quiet, with extremely friendly locals and a small population of about less than 4,000. Here everyone knows everyone, but outsiders are welcome and made to feel at home. This is a place where the days go by slowly (and the people are never exactly in a hurry, either).

Pedasi has all the benefits of a rural setting close to the growing city of Chitre. Due to the excellent infrastructure and beaches, foreign visitors are discovering how much Pedasi has to offer. But there is still an unbelievable number of niches to fill. Flights to Pedasi were reinstated just recently. With the global economy recovering, now may be the perfect time to get here and beat the crowds.

Little dive shops and surf shops have popped up in and around Pedasi. Several outfits offer deep-sea fishing tours, too. But let’s face it, not everyone wants to spend their time avoiding the bends or sitting around waiting to sight a marlin.

There are not yet any tourism businesses there catering to the less-experienced or less-adventurous traveler. Small, sustainable, and eco-friendly is the name of the game here. Offer “take it easy” tours for small groups. Make a day of it, taking them somewhere fun and local for breakfast, then to one of the 11 nearby beaches. You can even ship them off to the “secret” island known as Iguana.

Come visit and you’ll see. You could cater to expat kids…show documentaries and organize book and movie swaps…even a smoothie stand would be welcome. The tropical blue sky’s the limit here.

—Jessica Ramesch

8. A Boutique Hotel in Brazil
The city of São Luiz is Northeast Brazil’s number-one colonial city by the sea. Located on a huge tropical island, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to more than 3,500 historic colonial buildings. But not enough of them can house tourists.

Founded by the French in 1612, São Luiz’s historic center still retains some of its French influence, reflected in the food, bakeries, and even a French cultural center with language classes. It also enjoys a rich African influence—particularly noticeable in the food and music.

As I strolled along one street, the smell of baking bread wafted from the French bakery, while a group of young people chatted animatedly in a small colonial-era café. In back of it all was a steady and alluring reggae beat from a street band…reminding me that this is the reggae capital of Brazil.

But one thing lacking in historic São Luiz is good hotel space. The boutique hotel we stayed in was booked solid, and it was the only one we could find in the district. What’s more, there are plenty of colonial buildings awaiting restoration (at low prices), and plenty of travelers year ‘round in need of classy accommodations.

—Lee Harrison, IL’s Latin America Editor

9. Plan Weddings in Romantic Italy

“Romantic Italy” has long been popular with foreign couples who want to tie the knot overseas. With good organizational skills, you could set yourself up as a wedding planner and arrange both civil and church ceremonies.

Rome and Florence…the Amalfi coast and Capri…the Italian Lakes and Venice. In truth, few places aren’t romantic in Italy. Many regions allow civil weddings to be held outdoors, so you aren’t limited by location.

Profits look enormous. It would be reasonable to charge around $1,200 for a basic town hall package—which only includes the marriage arrangements and paperwork. A photographer, flowers, accommodation and catering, etc. are extras—and the person putting this together no doubt adds on 10-20% for those.

You could build up an Internet home business from scratch, but making local contacts will take time. I recently came across a wedding planner business based at Lake Como being sold for €6,000/$7,740. Website…contacts…weddings already booked. For more information, see: www.businessesforsale.com.

—Steenie Harvey

10. Island Boat Tours on Brazil’s Itamaraca

First Published October 3, 2011

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