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

Whether you’re looking for a way to supplement your retirement income and stay busy overseas… or you need a means of supporting yourself abroad… the good news is that your options are many and varied. Opening a money-making business with a tourism bent can be a lot easier than you think—especially if you aim for a market that’s on the upswing. It all starts with a good idea… and International Living's editors are full of those. Here are some of their ideas for the best places to start a tourism-related business today:

1. Mexico: Show Travelers Low-Key Loreto
If you’re a nature lover, there are few places in Mexico that can match the area around Loreto, in Baja California Sur. Right on the Sea of Cortez, Loreto offers just about every water-related activity you can imagine. Swimming, sailing, snorkeling, fishing, whale- and dolphin-watching…it’s all possible here, in one of the world’s most diverse marine eco-systems. On land, Loreto’s desert landscape offers hiking, horseback-riding…and magnificent vistas for photographers. There’s lots to do, but relatively few operators taking visitors to do it.

FONATUR, the Mexican government’s tourism-development agency, hand-picked this area 30 years ago as having the potential to be a world-class tourist destination. But unlike mega-resorts like Cancun, Loreto today remains pretty low-key.

Increasingly, though, tourists and expats are discovering Loreto. (At just 700 miles from the U.S. border, it’s an easy trip, especially for those coming from the U.S. West Coast.) And many who come once return year after year, swelling the ranks of this area’s fans.

If you dream of starting your own business, such as a small hotel or a sports-fishing enterprise, check out Loreto and the Sea of Cortez. Its beauty and low-key charm may be just what you’re seeking.

—Glynna Prentice, IL’s Mexico Editor

2. Great Tax Incentives Outside Panama City

There isn’t a single business person in Panama who hasn’t heard of Panama Pacifico. One of the world’s largest mixed-development projects, it is poised to become a city within a city. Close to the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, just over Panama City’s Bridge of the Americas, this area used to be an Air Force base called Howard.

But today, a special arrangement offers business and tax benefits to certain types of businesses in this area. For example, set up shop here and you could pay no taxes for the transfer of goods and services to ships, passengers, or any of Panama’s mega-ports. The Panama Pacifico “Special Economic Area,” as it’s called, has lured plenty of big business, from giants like 3M to Mailboxes, Etc. (the UPS Store).

But little businesses have yet to take hold in the former Howard…and so much is needed. There is a daycare, a single gas station, and little else. There are already hundreds of people living here and some 2,500 employees work here every day. The poor souls have nowhere to go for a latte or even a nice business luncheon…yet. Many of the people who live and work here are foreign, and new transplants continue to arrive. Start a business here now, and you’d be the first in with a major head-start. Perhaps you could start with something as straightforward as offering city shopping tours to busy executives and their spouses and families.

—Jessica Ramesch, IL’s Panama Editor

3. Give Theme Tours in the City of Light

You can find lots of books about “romantic Paris.” But I recently came across a title that gave me pause:  Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City. Says the book jacket, “Whether you want to be titillated by erotic art or seduced at the city’s most exclusive swingers’ clubs, this guide is the key to choosing your own adventure.”

It got me wondering. Maybe swingers clubs would be a little much… but women on “girlfriend getaways” might thrill at the idea of becoming a femme fatale and getting an insider’s insight into Naughty Paris…or Naughty Anywhere, come to think of it.

First Published October 3, 2011

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