Last week, I attended a promotional event for Chilean Patagonia in the Adventure Connect series, organized by the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA). At a time when Chile’s undergoing political upheaval, the occasion brought the Magallanes regional representative of Sernatur, the national tourism secretariat, and representatives of several different operators to San Francisco as part of a national promotional tour.
|The setup at San Francisco's Hotel Zetta|
The event took place in the lobby of Hotel Zetta, where eight different operators were to discuss their services with Bay Area travel companies and invited writers (of whom I was one). The format was a sort of musical chairs in which each operator met with one or more attendees for eight minutes before a timer sounded to move elsewhere. This went on for 2-1/2 hours, with a coffee break that included a giveaway raffle, before adjourning to a conference room for a presentation by Sernatur’s regional director Ximena Castro that was probably most useful to those with less experience than mine in the region. Later, there was a Chilean social hour that included snacks and one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever tasted—especially welcome on an unusually hot San Francisco day.
|Ximena Castro addresses the attendees.|
|The Chileans brought this Sauvignon Blanc along with them and, so far, I've been unsuccessful in finding it stateside.|
Originally, eight different operators—some of whom I already knew—were to attend the event. In the aftermath of the recent upheavals in Santiago, though, the representatives of Antarctic Airways—with whom I would have liked to discuss their updated services—and Lago Grey - Experience Hotel were unable to get flights out of Santiago. I already knew the owners of Big Foot Patagonia Adventure and the representative of Vértice Patagonia (operator of mountain huts on the famed Paine Circuit, plus a new boutique hotel in Puerto Natales), and was familiar with Antártica 21 and Australis Cape Horn & Patagonia (both of whom sent US-based representatives). New to me were the Chile Nativo adventure operator and HD Hotel Natales (the rebranded Hotel Cisne de Cuello Negro) in Puerto Bories.
The not quite unspoken topic that permeated the meeting was what effect Chile’s recent political disruptions and disorder might have on the upcoming season. There was certainly concern, but also consensus that the Región Metropolitana de Santiago and the coastal region of Valparaíso would be more directly hit than remote Magallanes. That said, cruise ship and hotel cancellations would certainly affect a city like the regional capital of Punta Arenas, which has seen some demonstrations. I recently saw an online story—can’t find the link now—whose headline spoke of “80 percent cancellations” in Chile, but what the story actually said was that 80 percent of hotels and other services had experienced cancellations (which could have been just a single cancellation each for some).
That’s not to dismiss the issue of vandalism and disorder by a destructive fringe, even as the great majority of demonstrations have been peaceful, but President Sebastián Piñera’s embattled government has cancelled the upcoming COP climate conference (at which Swedish activist icon Greta Thunberg was due to appear and also the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Personally, I would not hesitate to travel to Santiago, Valparaíso or elsewhere in Chile at present, even though I’d advise those with little or no experience of the country to be on alert. In a recent newsletter, the private Federación de Turismo de Chile cited the Subsecretaría de Turismo to the effect that “our tourism continues to function throughout the country and the most popular destinations visited by international tourists, such as San Pedro de Atacama, Elqui Valley, the islands of Rapa Nui [Easter Island] and Juan Fernández [Robinson Crusoe], the Chilean Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park, are operating with normality.” Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez is back to normal, but visitors would still do well to have travel insurance in case of disruption.
And the Money?
For foreign visitors, there may be a bright side to all this. About two months ago, the last time I wrote about exchange rates, both the Argentine and Chilean pesos were slipping against the US dollar, and that has continued with the upheaval in Chile and the recent election in Argentina, when the Peronist Alberto Fernández defeated the incumbent president Mauricio Macri.
|The Dólar Blue Hoy app is a useful addition to one's smartphone.|
The so-called “markets” (and many individual Argentines) have little confidence in Peronism and, consequently, Argentina’s Banco Central (Central Bank) has reinstituted a cepo cambiario (“currency clamp”) that restricts Argentines’ overseas ATM advances to US$50 per transaction (oddly, it puts no restrictions on the number of transactions per day, but those ATM charges could really add up. Meanwhile, individual Argentines can now officially purchase no more than US$200 per month, a measure that seems to be encouraging the informal dólar blue (visitors to Argentina might consider downloading the Dólar Blue Hoy app, pictured here, on their smartphones). Exactly this will develop as the Macri administration gives way to Fernández remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the informal exchange rate will benefit tourists in the short to medium term.
|Chile's peso has also slipped against the US dollar and some other currencies.|
In Chile, meanwhile, the peso has dipped to 740 per dollar, a fall of roughly three percent since August. This may affect prices slightly, but if foreign visitors avoid the country because of the perception of instability, services such as hotels and tour operators may drop their prices. In any event, matters are less predictable than they seemed even a few months ago.