A new tourism law passed by the Chilean Congress earlier this month is set to change the face of Chile’s tourist industry by setting standards for operators and guides.
“Tourism is one of the biggest growth industries in the world and the demand for new services in Chile has been increasing,” Economy Minister Hugo Lavados Lavados told local press this week. “The new law will make 2010 an important year for tourism in Chile.”
Last year Chile’s tourism industry generated nearly 10 billion USD (about 3.5% of Chile’s GDP) and employed an estimated 200,000 people.
The new law will classify tour guides and require tests to assure guides are qualified in their respective fields. Companies will have to pay to become certified operators, with authorities compiling a list of approved firms for tourists. Non-complying operators will be punished for infringing guidelines on tourist safety or for providing misinformation to tourists.
“The idea is to ensure the safety of tourists coming to this country,” said Lavados, whose economy ministry will oversee the future implementation of the law.
Still, not all tourism companies are keen to see the new law implemented. Critics argue that the financial obligations required for certification work to benefit only benefit larger operators.
“This system should help to improve services by giving guidelines and standards,” said Suzanne l’Ami of the local tour company Chile Off Track. “But it will be a very costly procedure and therefore should not only be aimed at the bigger companies, but also be made accessible to smaller companies by giving them financial support.”
A new ministerial council responsible for developing policies to strengthen Chile’s tourism industry will also be created under the new law. Board members will be chosen by parliament with their policies implemented by Chile’s existing tourism body, Sernatur.
Authorities stress that the tourism industry will have to work within environmental guidelines. The new council will designate protection and conservation areas reserved only for specialized eco-tour operators.
In addition to the ministerial council, a government supported promotional board will be established to provide information about Chile internationally. The board will consist of public and private sector representatives, with private sector members chosen to represent the industry as a whole, rather than particular enterprises.
l’Ami, whose company specializes in tours around Santiago, insists that more should be done to help local firms promote themselves.
“Chile should make more funds available for local tour operators in order to promote Chile as a destination on foreign markets,” she said.
Chile’s tourism industry has made headlines for the wrong reasons several times this summer. An Italian tour guide died rafting on the Futaleufu River in southern Chile earlier this month. It was later revealed that the guide was in Chile on a tourist visa and his level of rafting experience was unknown.
Also this month, a Brazilian tourist was seriously injured by a snow and mud slide while ascending the Villarica volcano in southern Chile’s Region IX. Brazilian tourists in particular are increasingly important to Chile. Large numbers of Brazilians have been flocking to Chile over the summer months.
By James Fowler - Santiago Times