Javiera Montes, Undersecretary of Tourism, explains to United World the strategic importance of tourism for the economic development of Chile, as well as the ambitious government agenda focused on creating more innovative and diversified products that will increase the number of tourist arrivals to the country.
For many years, you have been working in the tourism industry in Chile, which gives you a deep understanding of the sector. How would you assess the evolution of Chile’s tourism over the recent years?
If we look at a chart of the tourism trends in Chile, we will see almost a 100% increase in tourist arrivals over the past 10 years. This clearly demonstrates the impact that this industry has had on our economy.
During the last 10 years, tourism has been progressively integrating in the economy, playing an increasingly important role in the development of Chile’s productivity. At the same time, more jobs have been created and local economic development linked to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has been generated, contributing 3.2% to the GDP, and thereby establishing tourism as a strategic sector in the productivity, innovation and growth agenda.
Our main goal is to increase the number of tourist arrivals to our country and the income we make per tourist. Nowadays, we receive 3.6 million tourists a year and our objective is to reach 4 to 5 million by 2018.
What public policies are you developing to project Chile’s image internationally, increase its competitiveness and position the country as a tourism power at a global level?
At the international level, Chile has three main destinations: the Torres de Paine mountains, the Atacama Desert and Easter Island. However, Chile is much more than that. For this reason, we are looking to develop other attractions that would allow us to showcase our offer in a more innovative way. A good example is scientific tourism, which is associated to the Antarctic Peninsula and Navarino.
The idea is to diversify and create more innovative and relevant products that would allow us to be able to offer experiences in all 15 regions of Chile, where you may find a variety of landscapes ranging from deserts to glaciers; and different cultures and ethnic groups, from the Mapuches to the Aymara.
We want to do quality work that incorporates the sustainability concept in our offer. We are working with a human capital that is striving to improve its competences in order to upgrade the skills in the entire tourism industry.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are key for the development of tourism. How do you coordinate the activities between the main players in both sectors in order to raise the industry’s productivity?
PPPs are the foundation for tourism development. The entire government is working together through public policies to generate the necessary conditions for private investment. A good example is the Special Plan for Extreme Zones - three regions with a unique charm due to their exceptional biodiversity: the Arica region in the extreme North, and Aysén and Magallanes in the South. This program contemplates additional resources to generate the conditions to strengthen private investment in this area.
Regarding the extreme zones, is there a special plan to promote these protected areas within the scope of a sustainable touristic development?
We are creating the conditions to develop connectivity and accessibility within the environmental protection framework. The Special Plan for Extreme Zone allows us to create the necessary infrastructure in these areas to invigorate their local economies, increase their competitiveness on a national and international level, and attract greater investment for regional development.
The idea is to apply a policy that would protect biodiversity, while being coherent with the development plans for the area, which indicate what activities can be done, and how and when to do them.
How do you plan to reduce seasonality and to diversify the tourism offer in order to benefit more regional development?
Tourism is one of the most decentralized activities in our country. Each destination acts as the economic engine of the region in which it is located.
Rather than a problem, we perceive seasonality as an opportunity to diversify our offer. For example, business tourism is a decentralized activity, which takes place mainly during the periods of March to June, and August to October. Those periods do not coincide with the high tourism season in Chile; on the contrary, they allow us to break the seasonality cycle. Furthermore, we are intensifying our strategy to focus on the neighboring countries in Latin America, and promote Chile as a “getaway” destination at any time of year.
What is your plan to increase the capacity in terms of accommodation?
In 2014, significant investments where made in the accommodation, mainly in the Metropolitan Region, and many of those investments are now coming to completion. Nationwide, every day we see new tourist complexes rising up, mainly lodges and boutique hotels, with their own identity, which is very useful for the promotion of these destinations. This offer has been developing, along with the tourism business in our country.
The United States is one of Chile’s priority markets in terms of tourism. How would you assess the current results and what are your priorities for 2015?
In 2013, we received 176,720 tourists from the US and they generated $207.1 million income. From January to December 2014, the number of tourist arrivals from the US grew by 5.3%. Also, the arrival of United Airlines to Chile represents an additional 16% increase in flight capacity.
Moreover, the Visa Waiver Program based on reciprocity, allows not only Chileans to travel to the US, but also US tourists to enter our country without having to pay over $100 for a visa. All these facts, together with our promotional activity in the US, will allow us to identify the affinities of the US tourists in our country. This will help us to target better niche markets and segment the US market in order to attract more and better tourists in the future.
How would you describe the typical American tourist coming to Chile? What is he looking for? Where does he usually travel?
Usually, American travelers are looking mainly for nature and wines. Nevertheless, we must centralize more information about what exactly they are looking for in our country. In 2013, 44.8% of the travelers said that they visited Chile for holidays, while 31.6% came here for business.
Could you comment on the international awards that you have received lately?
We have received various awards as recognition for our work, which makes us very proud and encourages us to keep on promoting our country. For example, the globally renowned guidebook for travels, Lonely Planet, has selected the Atacama Desert as one of the 10 regions in the world one should visit in 2015. Furthermore, during the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, Chile was awarded Best Emerging Destination in 2014, at the competition “Agents’ Travel Choice Awards.” Moreover, the magazine Travel+Leisure, ranked Chile 7th among 20 top countries for solitary travelers, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Austria, etc.
To cut a long story short, Chile has it all. Few countries in the world can offer such diversity of landscapes, from deserts in the North, to the Antarctic in the South. Travelling to Chile is an invitation to live a unique experience of diversity and contrast.
I would also like to extend the invitation to international investors, because Chile offers possibilities for development with a significant growth potential in tourism. Besides, our government is strongly committed to development and the public-private partnerships are getting stronger and deeper day by day.