Uruguay is seriously considering the construction of a harbour for the cruise industry and admits infrastructure is already lacking in many areas for the exponential growth of the tourism industry, which in 2011 could be reaching the targets set out for the five year period 2010/2014.
“Every year more cruise tourists visit Uruguay and on occasions in Punta del Este (Uruguay’s international resort) we have four, five vessels anchored in the bay. The industry is also extending the season so we must work to have a harbour to better land and board visitors. I consider this is essential. Similarly dredging access channels to the River Plate since cruise vessels are becoming really large”, said Uruguay’s Tourism and Sports minister Hector Lescano.
The minister said this was evidence of the lack of sufficient infrastructure in certain areas which can also be extended to several easy going village-resorts along the coast of Rocha that have become a regional attraction, and receive a massive inflow of tourists in summer months, “forcing public services to the limit”.
Lescano who has held the post during the two mandates of the left wing catch-all ruling coalition says that since 2004 the number of tourists arriving in Uruguay has soared from 700.000 in 2004 to almost 2.5 million. This in money terms has meant a trebling of income from 500 million USD to 1.7 billion USD.
“When we started this administration (March 2010) the five year target (2014) we planned was 2.7 million tourists and 1.8 billion USD: we are currently very close of achieving those goals at the end of this year, which also means jobs for 60.000 people”, revealed Lescano.
The minister claims that given the resources generated by the tourism industry, the money provided by the national budget for promoting the industry (7 million US dollars) is minimal “or from a positive side and based on results, we are most efficient; nevertheless I think we need to invest more, since competition is tough”.
Besides natural attractions and the host spirit of Uruguayans, Lescano mentioned security as one of the conditions for the surge of tourism in the country. “We don’t have the best ratings of the world in the issue, but regionally I think that with modesty we can say we give visitors a good security and on the beat support so they can enjoy their holidays. This is clearly acknowledged in the interviews we collect”.
Lescano’s post also includes Sports, an area which Uruguayan authorities want to promote, particularly among children and teenagers and for which the private sector will be invited, with tax breaks, to support the initiative once a bill in parliament is approved.
“The government will be making a strong fiscal sacrifice so we want to make sure there’s a clear line into the future once the bill is implemented, which will also sponsor investments in infrastructure” said Lescano who nevertheless would like to see his responsibilities split into two ministries.
“Tourism now is as or more important for Uruguay in foreign income terms than the beef industry and sports is well developed but needs an improved platform. We must take advantage of recent successes as Uruguay’s performance in the World Cup, and this means a lot of promotion and lobbying, it’s a two men’s job”, underlines Lescano, who says he has cabinet backing and in Parliament to create the two ministries.
Finally Lescano points out that promoting sports “is good to prevent drugs, keep teenagers busy and obviously we must also find ways of better coordinating efforts between law enforcement officers and the courts to definitively eradicate the violence phenomenon, ‘hooliganism’ which is global but some countries have managed to tackle successfully”.