It has been a tough and discouraging tourist season this summer for Punta Arenas and its area of influence according to local operators and the hotel industry.
The slump during January because of the massive week long protests against gas hikes promoted by the private sector and which paralyzed Magallanes Region has been followed by a “very weak” February with hotel and lodge bookings down in the range of 20% to 30% for this time of the year.
“This slump not only impacts the hotel industry which is down 20% to 30% according to our findings, but also the whole services industry. We face a serious winter”, said Sergio Tapia president of Austro Chile, Magallanes chamber of tourism enterprises.
Tapia said that the number of tourists from the US and Europe has dropped approximately 14% compared to the previous season. However an interesting phenomenon has been taking place which helped mitigate the lack of overseas visitors.
“We’ve had an interesting increase in Chilean visitors, and we are looking after them because they are spending more money than foreigners. They stay longer, they are helping hotels and other services”, pointed out Tapia, who nevertheless said it was too soon to jump to conclusions looking into the future.
Tapia said that although visits to the Torres del Paine National Park have remained stable, “it’s a misguiding figure since it counts the number of tickets at the gate and many of the visitors come for the day in organized tours from neighbouring Calafate in Argentina”.
Austro-Chile president said that it was a bad cruise season for Punta Arenas: “Ushuaia is a formidable competitor and we must adjust our costs and conditions for the vessels when in Chilean waters”.
Finally Tapia said that overall the season has been discouraging even when there are a few weeks ahead, “but we are concerned and we must prepare and be ready to attract more tourists for the coming 2011/12 season”.