Over three weeks have elapsed since the strong earthquake hit the center-south region of Chile, and one of the most affected activities was undoubtedly tourism. The fifth strongest earthquake recorded in history was as shattering to the Chileans as to foreigners, many of whom cancelled their reservations and postponed their visits to the country. The Santiago international airport was closed for some days and the highway infrastructure was badly damaged, but as reconstruction is under way, tourists are starting to visit Chile again.
Between January and February, over 750,000 foreigners visited Chile. After the earthquake, hotels experienced up to 50% of cancelled reservations, but a large part of this decline was due to faulty information regarding post-earthquake conditions. With the aim of informing visitors about the real situation in the country, a delegation from the Servicio Nacional de Turismo (Sernatur – National Tourism Service) participated in the ITB 2010 fair –the most important tourism event in the world– that took place in Berlin in mid March.
In the course of the meeting, Jacqueline Tichauer, Head of Communications for Sernatur, stated that the earthquake and subsequent tsunami particularly affected some localities in the center-south of Chile, whereas the larger part of the country remained intact. This is the case in the southern and northern areas, which offer magnificent attractions such as Torres del Paine and San Pedro de Atacama, respectively. “For visitors traveling to Copiapó in the north and Patagonia in the extreme south, flights are operating normally, so in that sense we’re reassured.”
Even in the central area, including Santiago and Valparaíso, basic services have been restored, as well as the roads that were damaged by the earthquake, so it is possible to visit their attractions in totally normal conditions. In general, only the heaviest-hit sectors such as the cities of Concepción, Talcahuano and Talca, as well as coastal towns in the regions of O’Higgins, Maule and Biobío, are not in condition to receive tourists because of the damage to road and tourism infrastructure.
The local authorities are also taking steps to reactivate the tourism sector and show the rest of the world that Chile is prepared to face and overcome such catastrophes. For example, the mayors of the coastal towns of the region of Valparaíso met with a view to calling upon potential tourists and assuring them that the services that were traditionally available in the area are operating safely.
The mayors of Concón, Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, three of the major tourist centers of Chile, stated that they are preparing cultural events that are scheduled to take place in the next few months, in order to promote the arrival of tourists. In addition, the authorities indicated that they expect a major increase of tourism for the Easter holiday, which comes in April this year and is a time when Chileans take advantage of the opportunity to travel.
Fundación Imagen de Chile has also been taking steps in this regard. After the international campaign to thank the countries that helped Chile during the emergency, the foundation is preparing new initiatives to show how the country is overcoming the effects of the earthquake and is returning to normal. The campaign is especially directed at the United States, Brazil and China.