Chilean authorities anticipate that for the season 2012/13, Punta Arenas will be in favourable conditions to compete with neighbouring Ushuaia in Argentina. This follows on Chilean initiatives to cut operation costs for cruise vessels dramatically and the lifting of the ban on floating casinos.
Cruise traffic in Punta Arenas has been falling significantly during the last seasons and 2010/2011 has been particularly discouraging according to the Punta Arenas Port Authority, EPA.
This season there have been only 95 calls compared to the 125 of the previous season, which means EPA activity in this field has dropped 30% in the number of vessels, and 32% in visitors.
In a peak season such as 2007/2008, a total of 162 cruise vessels called in the extreme south of Chile with 96.000 visitors, this season the number is down to 47.000 which is also below the 66.000 of 2009/2010.
However EPA authorities and Punta Arenas tourism operators are optimistic for the coming seasons since last week Chile announced considerable rebates in harbour, docking, pilot and other fees, up to 80%, while at the same time the Executive sent a bill to Congress which authorizes cruise vessels to operate their casinos in Chilean waters, so far banned.
“These initiatives should help us compete in better terms with Ushuaia in Argentina. They will be entirely effective for the 2012/2013 season”, said Andrea Tellez, regional director for Chile’s Tourism Office.
In Punta Arenas, John Mattson, general managed of the local casino Dreams said that the local industry does not oppose letting cruise vessels operate their casinos in Chilean waters. Furthermore the crew members who are strictly banned from playing on board casinos “can come and play at our Dreams Palace; our problem with the Chilean government is taxes”.
Dreams Palace delivers annually approximately four million US dollars to the city of Punta Arenas (50%) and the regional government of Magallanes (50%), which can only be spent in public works investments.
The Chilean casinos legislation is similar to that in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean where floating casinos are banned.
The debate on the collapse of cruise tourism in Punta Arenas also revealed some interesting numbers from the Chilean Tourism Service Office.
According to Sernatur based on a technical report on ‘the profile of the cruise visitor in the Magallanes region, tendencies, perceptions and preferences 2006/2009’while foreign flagged vessels tourists spend an average 90 US dollars while ashore, Chilean tourists travelling on Chilean flagged cruises spend an average of 400 US dollars. This is because Chilean cruise visitors spend all their tour visiting Chilean ports.
Finally EPA reported that in spite of the dramatic drop in cruise vessels’ calls it has managed to end the fiscal year with a profit. This has been achieved by diversifying services such as renting port facilities and storage space plus expanding cold storage for the fish farming industry.