Mercosur tourism ministers agreed to facilitate border crossings for citizens from country members and to draft a homogeneous system for keeping the industry’s statistics, during their XI meeting held in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Ministers also decided to keep ahead with the opening of a tourist office in Tokyo for the Far East market, later this year and attend tourist fairs in Japan as a way of showing solidarity with the country ravaged by the recent earthquake and tsunami.
The Asunción Declaration at the end of the two-day meeting held in mid May collects all these initiatives and makes particular emphasis in ‘border crossings’ a sensitive issue in several border areas of Mercosur since smuggling and illegal traffic of drugs, weapons and people has become a challenge for regional governments.
“Border cooperation is a standing challenge we have to address and I believe we have the resources and intelligence to face it which together with good, reliable statistics based on the same methodology will be a great help”, said Liz Cramer head of Paraguay’s Tourism Board office and host of the meeting.
The other issue, international promotion of Mercosur for inbound tourisms was intensely discussed including the support of the Inter American Development Bank.
Associate Mercosur members Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela also showed an interest in a joint promotion package, but all representatives admitted the idea has a long way to go before it can be effectively materialized.
“The idea is not to compete among ourselves but rather complementation since we all have something different to showr”, said Uruguay’s Tourism minister Hector Lescano underlining that promoting tourism not only has an integration impact but is probably the industry which better distributes income based on services and jobs opportunities.
Lescano praised Paraguay’s efforts in promoting local and regional tourism and said that for the United Nations tourism is defined as almost another human right since everybody has a right to rest, to make use of his/her free time, to improve cultural and educational knowledge”.
Paraguay’s Liz Cramer revealed that tourism activities in the country had grown 6% in 2010 and are expected to expand an additional 7% this year, which “means business operators are more inclined to invest in the industry if we can keep that sustained robust growth”.
Paraguay’s Travel agencies and tourism operators’ chamber revealed that in the last five years domestic tourism has expanded 300% and now the industry represents 1.6% of the country’s GDP.
The Hotel Industry Association of Paraguay said the country has 13.000 beds for inbound visitors but should reach 30.000 in a couple of years’ time.
“The hotel industry has expanded vigorously in recent years and four new hotels are projected or in construction”, said Minister Cramer.
She added that development of Paraguayan tourism has several main areas: events and international fairs, particularly in the capital Asuncion; wildlife and areas of pristine untouched nature with subsidiaries such as eco-tourism, rural tourism; sightings of birds, wild cats and fluvial fauna, and cultural with such world heritages as the Jesuit Missions dating back four centuries.
On the liabilities side Ms Cramer mentioned poor connectivity; slow documentation processing (visas, customs); poor infrastructure and training human resources.
The next Mercosur ministers’ meeting is scheduled for the second half of 2012 in Montevideo, Uruguay.