Empty airports and hotels for sale: Chilean tourism, in check due to the closure of borders due to the coronavirus

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The sector that directly contributed 3.3% of Chilean GDP in 2018, with more than 9 billion dollars, this year will not even reach a third of that figure.

Empty airports, hotels for sale, borders closed for eight months and total uncertainty. This is the wake that the coronavirus has left in Chilean tourism, a sector that registers multi-million dollar losses and hundreds of thousands of layoffs since the start of the pandemic.

Even the worst projections did not measure the depth of the crisis: the sector that in 2018 directly contributed 3.3% of Chilean GDP, with more than 9 billion dollars, this year it will not even reach a third of that number.

For the undersecretary of Tourism, José Luis Uriarte, the effects of the pandemic “have been brutal” and the administration’s efforts are focused today on measures that allow the “survival” of the sector, he said.

In 2019, a “normal year” according to the tourism union, Chile registered 4.5 million foreign visitors, but after eight months with closed borders and restricted circulation, the figure this year reaches just one million considering January, February and March of this year, months in which the pandemic was not yet considered a threat.

The vice president of the Federation of Tourism Companies of Chile (Fedetur), Helen Kouyoumdjian, said that the situation is “dramatic” and that all the projections they have made were “short”.

“We calculate that to return to the 2019 figures, in the case of international tourism, we are going to take 51 months,” he said.

Chile, with about 525,000 infected and more than 14,600 dead, is one of the twenty countries most affected in the world by covid-19, which has wreaked havoc on the economy, with a historical contraction of 14.1% in the second quarter, the largest since 1986.

According to the Santiago Chamber of Commerce, between last March and July destroyed 20.9% of jobs and tourism does not escape the magnitude of this figure.

According to Fedetur, 300,000 industrial workers have been unemployed in recent months, 50% of what the area usually generates in high season.

“We could reach 75% unemployment in the sector,” warned Kouyoumdjian, who indicated that Chile is one of the few countries in the region that has not yet opened its borders and has not even proposed a timetable.

Several local media reported this week that the Government plans to allow tourists to enter later this month, but there is no official confirmation and so far only nationals and resident foreigners can enter.

Fears are pleasing in the south, especially in Torres del Paine National Park, one of the great tourist attractions of Chile, declared in 2013 as the eighth wonder of the world and where 90% of its visitors are foreigners.

In recent months, this southern area in the Magallanes region has become the epicenter of the pandemic in Chile, with the highest rate of infections nationwide, and they do not even receive national tourists because some localities are still in quarantine.

For Andrea Tellez, manager of the Torres del Paine Association of Hotels and Tourist Services, the current situation is “critical”: “In the region there are 18,000 people who live from the tourism industry and is totally paralyzed“.

Tellez indicated that direct “economic support” is necessary until the reopening is declared, since the contributions have been “insufficient”, especially considering independent workers such as artisans and tourist guides.

“You have to continue taking care of yourself and being responsible, creating the conditions to move forward,” said Undersecretary Uriarte.

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