Argentina's tourism industry is booming with a record 1,2 million foreign visitors in 2003 mostly from Brazil, Chile, United States and Spain.
This represents a 36% increase over 2002 after a dreadful two years when Argentina was suffering from political and financial chaos. Looking even further back it's a great advance over the nineties when virtually millions of Argentines travelled overseas taking advantage of the overvalued fixed exchange rate of one Argentine peso equivalent to one US dollar.
"The 2003 results are encouraging and the first reports of the current season indicate a further 20% increase", said Argentine Tourism Minister Enrique Meyer. "The devaluation of the peso and the favourable incidence of a dollar equivalent to three Argentine pesos helped the tourism boom, however we must make this sustainable in the long term, and this is our greatest challenge", stressed Mr. Meyer.
Last year 1,288,780 foreign tourists visited Argentina with the greatest increase coming from South Africa, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Spain, Venezuela, United States and Italy.
The hot-steamy summer Buenos Aires city that forces residents to leave for the Atlantic beaches and the Uruguayan coast has been literally invaded by Americans, Europeans and other Latinamericans that according to estimates from the local Tourism Office will be spending over 100 million US dollars until March.
Occupancy rates during the first week of January in the best hotels of Buenos Aires were between 55 and 70% compared to 20% in 2002.
Arriving in Buenos Aires is usually the first leg of a long tour of different spots of the country that includes Bariloche in Patagonia, El Calafate, Ushuaia, the Iguazú falls in the border with Brazil, Mendoza and its famous wine industry and the arid northeast of Argentina.
"The increase in tourist numbers in Buenos Aires is partly because of the cruise industry and more regular flights but also because Buenos Aires and Argentina are recovering their external image", says Marcela Cuesta, Deputy Secretary of the city's Tourist Office.
Apparently the positive image has been boosted among others by the "Máxima effect", who is the Argentine wife of the heir Prince to the Dutch throne William Alexander. The young couple spends their vacations in Patagonia where Máxima's brother also owns a bar.
Other distinguished owners of farms and land in Patagonia include CNN's Ted Turner; the Italian textile tycoon Luciano Benetton; finance speculator George Soros; actor Sylvester Stallone.