Uruguay's Deputy Tourism Minister Lilian Kechiciahn revealed that in the first fortnight of 2007 the number of Argentine tourists traveling to Uruguay dropped 20% compared to a year ago, mainly because of the ongoing controversy over the construction of the Finnish Botnia-Orion pulp mill.
"It's a very complex situation, it's like having a hospital with no oxygen or anesthetics", said Ms Kechichian talking about the pickets that since November 20 have been blocking two of the three bridges leading to Uruguay. Ms Kechichian said that at the end of 2006, the fall in the number of Argentine tourists visiting Uruguay had dropped 11%, but in the first days of 2007, "has increased to 20%". However the Uruguayan official said she was "satisfied" with the tourist season so far this summer which has been compensated by the significant influx of tourists from outer region plus Brazilians and Chileans, who have increased 33% in number. However talking about the specific case of Argentine tourists, Kechichian insisted Uruguay is going through a "very special situation" since it's not encouraging for whoever has to instrument a tourism policy to have the main access of tourists to Uruguay, the Gualeguaychu-Fray Bentos blocked by pickets". But she also pointed out the fidelity of Argentine tourists towards Uruguay because in spite of a 20% decrease in numbers, "we received over 50.000 Argentine tourists during the first few days of 2007". "Undoubtedly communications between the two countries has complicated things and I say so with regret because for Uruguay, tourism is an important source of income", said Kechichian who nevertheless was hopeful that the situation could change in the coming weeks "with a greater number of Argentines crossing over to spend their holidays in Uruguayan beaches and countryside". Actually 80% of tourism in Uruguay comes from Argentina and "I'm hopeful that we can overcome the situation caused by the construction of Botnia's pulp mill in Fray Bentos.