The number of tourists arriving in Uruguay this summer season has erupted into an open controversy between the government and tourism operators who question the official stats release of the first fifteen days of January.
According to official figures the number of tourists arriving in Uruguay in the first fifteen days of 2012, compared to the previous season jumped 26%, (particularly Argentines) but for operators in the main resort Punta del Este and which has been traditionally the gauge of a ‘good or bad season’, the number is not only bloated: the number of Argentines was less than in January 2011.
According to Uruguay’s Migration Office in the first two weeks of this year, the number of foreign visitors arriving was 36.357 higher than in the same period a year ago, which is equivalent to a 18.4% increase, most of them Argentines. More specifically in 2011 the number of Argentine tourists arriving was 140.014 while this year it was 176.026, or 26% higher.
But Punta del Este operators challenge the number since they argue it has not reflected in demand. The Maldonado real estate chamber says that the number of rentals was, on average, down 30% compared to a year ago.
“There was less people this season, the official release does not coincide with the rent-business numbers”, said Juan Francisco Bistiancic, president of the chamber.
Hotels have also seen a slight fall from last year according to Fernando Massa president of the Punta del Este Hotels Centre. Hotel occupation was 85% on average which is 5 percentage points less than the 90% in the period extending from 25 December to 15 January.
“Currently in the second half of January effective bookings are on average 75% to 80% which also means a five percentage point decrease compared to the same period in 2011” said Massa.
For the Uruguayan government from January first to 15 January, 233.237 foreign tourists arrived in the country, while in the same period last year the figure was 196.880, which represents 36.357 more.
However where the government and private sector agree is that the number of Brazilian tourists was less. During the first half of January 26.085 Brazilian tourists arrived in Uruguay which is 3% less than in 2011. But “Brazilians tend to spend more than the Argentines”.
Before the official release the Uruguayan Ministry of Tourism was expecting an overall increase in arrived tourists of 22%. Nevertheless some Punta del Este operators admit that the difference between official data and effective demand in the resort could be explained because of a more expansive distribution of Argentine tourists, whom instead of concentrating in Punta del Este could have privileged other options, particularly in Colonia and Rocha.
Likewise several Uruguayan sources indicate that during the first days of 2012, as well as in December, many Argentines crossed to Uruguay for the day exclusively to purchase US dollars given the restrictions imposed by the government of President Cristina Fernandez.