Nearly 16,000 tourists will flood the port city of Valparaiso over the next two weeks, with over half of the visitors arriving in a single day on four separate cruise ships. The huge ships are set to dock next Friday 26th, along with six smaller vessels throughout the week, bringing an unprecedented influx of visitors to the city of 280,000.
Authorities in Valparaiso have begun citywide preparations to handle the intense two week tourist period - police presence on city streets will be greatly increased, particularly on Valparaiso's famed vista points and commercial strips. Security will be heightened at all major tourist destinations in the region, such as Isla Negra ÃÂ¢€" the location of famed poet Pablo Neruda's seaside home. Plans are also underway to increase security and police presence in the nearby cities of Viña del Mar and Concón. Nearly 3,500 tourists will arrive on the Queen Mary II, the largest of the cruise ships. The luxury vessel has five swimming pools, an 8,000-book library, a casino, a movie theater, cabaret, a conference center, a discotheque, a spa, a beauty salon, an art gallery, a fitness center, a jogging track, mini-golf, and hundreds of staff members to serve guests 24 hours a day. The world renowned ship has often stopped in Valparaiso and the port city's popularity has grown among tourists. Valparaiso's transformation into one of Chile's best known tourist attractions is a relatively recent development ÃÂ¢€" the historic port city always had a reputation as the poor, shady neighbour of the fancy resort town Viña del Mar. Well into the 1990's, the city's historic houses and cultural monuments were dilapidated and in danger of collapsing until local and national heritage groups began projects aimed at maintaining and restoring Valparaiso's historical neighbourhoods. Local restoration efforts were rewarded in 2003 when Valparaiso received the prestigious UNESCO title of a World Heritage Monument, as well as a US$73 million grant to fund future restoration projects. Local restorations of buildings and monuments continue to gain momentum, and Valparaiso's image, both at home and abroad, has changed significantly. The city is now associated with romantic and picturesque images - 19th century wooden elevators ascending steep hills of colorful houses, winding cobblestone alleys, beautiful historic cemeteries, and breath-taking Pacific views. As Valparaiso's image has grown, it has developed into a key city in Chile's growing tourism industry. Tourism throughout Chile is on the rise ÃÂ¢€" the industry expanded 11.5 percent during 2006 and is expected to grow an additional 14 percent in the summer months of January and February, according to the National Tourism Office, Sernatur. Sernatur is forecasting 640,000 tourists in these two months - up 14 percent over the same period last year Cruise ship tourism has significantly increased as well, and the number of tourists coming to Chile as passengers on cruise ships is expected to grow by five percent in 2007, according to Destination Management Chile, which handles 70 percent of all tours and sightseeing trips involving cruise passengers. Passengers who visit Chile aboard the cruisers spend on average US$100 in each port, and the packaged tourism deals sold to the passengers have increased by 30 percent the past several years. In a recent development, cruise passengers now tend to spend additional time in Chile as they disembark from the vessels. Patricio de la Sotta, marketing manager with cruise liner Interexpress, explained that Chile has great potential for developing these additional tourist activities: "Passengers are no longer disembarking in Valparaíso to take the airplane home. They spend an extra couple of days in the country." Next weekend, an estimated 2,240 of the Queen Mary II's passengers will take various excursions to vineyards in the Casablanca Valley, Viña del Mar, Portillo and Santiago. The Santiago Times - News about Chile