Chile wants to take advantage of its remoteness by turning its off-the-beaten track reputation from a disadvantage into an advantage for tourists looking for unique experiences.
Separated from the rest of South America by the Atacama Desert, the Andes Mountains and the Antarctic, Chile is practically an island. But it is exactly this remoteness that Chile’s tourism industry is promoting.
“As a country we are interested in serving as a destination for high-quality tourism. And there we have a great competitive advantage because what we offer is aligned with the unique experiences sought by tourists in the special-interest market,” says Hugo Lavados, Chile’s Minister of the Economy.
Consequently, Chile has made the development of high-quality, special-interest tourism a priority. Not just to showcase the country’s unique environment and local cultures, but to accelerate its economic growth while protecting its environment and cultures.
To encourage foreign investment in this type of tourism, Chile has developed new destinations, improved its tourist infrastructure, upgraded highways, airports and ports, built hotels and is installing internet access in remote locations visited by tourists.
“We have set ourselves the goal of transforming the tourism industry into the third most important sector in the country, increasing its contribution to GDP from the current 3%, to 6% or 7% within the next ten years,” says Tourism Minister Pablo Longueira.
Tourism accounted for 3.4% of Chile’s GDP in 2010, according to the World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011, and is forecasted to increase by 5.3% annually until 2020. The report ranks Chile 9th in the region for tourism competitiveness and 57th globally, due to its cultural resources (it has six World Heritage cultural sites) and several international fairs and exhibitions.
“In addition, policy rules and regulations are conducive to the development of the T&T (travel and tourism) sector, with few foreign ownership restrictions, a liberal visa regime, and open bilateral Air Service Agreements,” the report states, adding that also tops the rankings among Latin American and Caribbean economies for security.
International tourism is increasing steadily. During April-June 2011, international arrivals grew 19.8% compared to the same period in 2010 and 13.5% and 27.4% compared to 2009 and 2008. Still, at least 70% of Chile’s tourism is domestic although per capita income has increased at an annual average rate of 3.7% during the last five years.
In line with Longueira’s goal, Undersecretary of Tourism Jacqueline Plass has developed a tourism strategy that includes developing investment opportunities in tourism. As part of this strategy, the Foreign Investment Committee has compiled a list of private projects for tourism investment which it is distributing to potential foreign investors.
These opportunities include building high-quality ecotourism facilities and fishing lodges, developing marinas along the Pacific coast, constructing theme trails in national parks as well as networks of agrotourism lodges and activities.
Plass recently announced a $169 million plan to promote tourism in the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, home of the Mapuche indigenous culture. The main focus of the plan, which will run through 2014, is infrastructure improvement. This includes improving the region’s international airport and highways, and implementing a GPS system.
At the other end of the country, in the northern Atacama desert, astronomical tourism is being promoted in the Coquimbo Region where eight international observatories are located along the so-called “Route of the Stars.”
Business tourism is also growing in importance. From 2001 to 2008, the business market increased from 11.8% of all visitors to Chile to 21%. In 2010 Chile hosted 97 international meetings compared to 37 in 2001, according to the International Congress and Convention Association.
To support investors, Chile offers incentives to help develop tourism and other industries in remote areas of the country, such as in the Arica, Palen and Parinacota provinces and the Aysen and Magallanes regions. Tourism and some other industries are eligible for tax and customs benefits for setting up business in the Magallanes region and Chilean Antarctic. ●
Way off the beaten track
Here are a just few of the many unique sites that Chile offers adventurous tourists looking for something unique.
The Atacama Desert is the world’s driest. Visitors are attracted to the desert because of its variety of landscapes and salt flats. Several movies have been filmed here, including the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace”. The most noteworthy tourist attractions are the Valle de la Luna, the Valle de la Muerte, the El Tatio geysers and the area’s lakes and flamingos. The Atacama Salt Flats are the second largest in the world. Several volcanoes also dominate the desert landscape.
Easter Island is located 3,800 kilometers off the coast of Central Chile in the Pacific Ocean. The island is one of Chile’s main tourist attractions due to its natural beauty and ancestral culture, of which the only remains are 887 giant stone statues known as moai. The island also has outstanding marine life and opportunities for diving. The Rapa Nui National Park is a World Heritage Site.
Northern Patagonia stretches from Puerto Montt south to Cape Horn and boasts ancient forests, glaciers, vast ice fields, lagoons, fjords, rivers and lakes. It is ideal for adventure tourism, fishing, trekking, extreme sports, kayaking, rafting and observing flora and fauna in its most natural state. The Southern Highway runs 1,240 kilometers to Villa O’Higgins and provides access to one of the world’s most unspoiled regions.