Q&A with Chile’s Undersecretary for Tourism

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Chile Tourism


Chile is a land that offers much in the way of tourism—spanning nearly 4,000 miles of coastline, the country offers the driest desert in the world; five UNESCO World Heritage Sites; 139 active volcanoes; nearly 300 thermal baths; more than 1,500 mountains over 13,000 ft. each; almost 3,100 islands; about 15,800 lakes and lagoons; and 24,100 glaciers. It’s dizzying, how many incredible, beautiful, natural sites there are to see in this South American country.

With that in mind, Chile is embarking on a major tourism promotion campaign based on the country’s first National Strategy for Tourism that centers on five pillars: Promotion; sustainability; investment and competitiveness; quality and human capital; and market intelligence. To learn more about the strategy, Recommend’s associate publisher Terence Murphy recently sat down for an interview with newly appointed undersecretary for tourism for Chile, Jacqueline Plass.

Terence Murphy: Can you outline your tourism strategy over the next few years for Chile, particularly with regard to the U.S. market?

Jacqueline Plass: We have been developing the first tourism strategy for the country, particularly in terms of promotion, and the U.S. is one of our priority markets. In 2011, we spent $2 million and in the 2012/13 year we will be spending $4 million, mostly directed towards the consumer, with an emphasis on digital and online promotion.

TM: We’ve noted that U.S. arrivals to Chile dipped slightly last year. Do you anticipate growth, moving forward?

JP: Yes, visitors declined 1 percent in 2011, but that was less than the 4 percent dip for South America as a region, and we think we have plenty of space to grow, definitely.

TM: Obviously, the country is so diverse and very visual, and that comes across in all the promotions you do of the country. Where do you see the main areas for U.S. tourists to visit, particularly for a first-time visitor?

JP: The question is not easy to answer because it depends on what the visitor wants to do, but most of the U.S. tourists are looking for nature, and to touch nature. That means I would suggest to cover the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert; they should go to a small town called San Pedro de Atacama. After that, Santiago is a city worth seeing definitely, it is becoming a very cosmopolitan city. I would spend three or four days in the main city of the country and I would suggest Patagonia, undoubtedly the Torres del Paine National Park is absolutely awesome. Although you have very similar parks in the U.S., the big difference is that in Chile the nature is absolutely untouched, and that makes a huge difference.

TM: And they are very unpopulated…

JP: Absolutely. You won’t run into a lot of visitors and you can walk for two or three days without seeing anybody.

TM: We’ve noticed that there have been new developments in upscale tourism products; accommodations and lodges that are high-end luxury products. Is that a trend? Are you trying to pursue the upscale traveler?

JP: Definitely, because most of the people who are going to Chile want to have a very, very different experience and they want to pay for it. So this new infrastructure you mentioned from luxury hotels to nice restaurants, to private tours with picnics thousands of feet high, overlooking the ocean in the middle of the mountains, you can get it. And probably for your first trip you would never choose Chile, so for those going to Chile they would have been in Europe at least, in Asia, some in Africa and probably South America is their fourth or fifth destination—it would never be the first. After their first trip, they’re expecting something more next time—the traveler becomes more sophisticated.

TM: What about air service to Chile? We know that Santiago is the hub but there have been more airlines offering increased service within Chile. Does that mean it’s easier for a visitor to visit various parts of the country using Santiago as the hub?

JP: Yes definitely, that’s the way to do it. Santiago offers at least five or six daily flights to the northern part of the country, to San Pedro de Atacama, as well as to the south, where you can travel from Santiago to Punta Arenas in three and a half hours.

TM: Are you aware of any new air service or routes from the U.S.?

JP: It’s not easy, but we are working on it definitely.

TM: Where would you like to see new service from?

JP: From the central part of the U.S., because the east coast is covered and the west coast as well.

TM: Do you see visitors today doing different things than they were a decade ago?

JP: Most of the U.S. travelers are looking for green destinations, that’s something very important. They want to know that when they pay for a hotel that the property has followed at least some environmental responsibility and sustainability guidelines. Especially if you are going down to Chile where the key part is nature. Secondly, I would say that they are getting more and more interested in culture and heritage. They want to know the people, the real Chilean people and they want to get in contact with them. They don’t want to have a tourist experience; if visitors have the chance to sleep with the Mapuches in the Lake area they will do it; they’ll share their lunch with them, they want to talk with them. So I would say culture and heritage is becoming more and more important to us.

TM: And there are tours available that enable visitors to have these experiences?

JP: Yes, you can do this in the north with the Aymaras and in the south with the Mapuches.

TM: Are you aware of any major new hotel developments?

JP: Over $750 million is being spent  on new hotel developments in the coming year, mostly in Santiago. But nowadays, each of the regional capitals have very nice hotels.

TM: If you were talking with a travel agent, how would you convince them to choose Chile over other South American destinations?

JP: If you want to have a real adventure, without taking any risk, then you have to go to Chile. We are not only a very safe country, but a very stable country as well, economically, politically and in all ways.

For more information, visit chile.travel.

To learn more about Chile, keep an eye out for Recommend’s Chile Destination Specialist Program at edu.recommend.com.