16 March 2006

Let's hope more and more of us visit Argentina

I hope we do. It's a huge diverse and fascinating country. Good for British travellers, and good for the Argentinean tourist industry who are salivating over the latest figures for arrivals from the UK; up last year by almost a fifth and contributing significantly (we stay longer and in more expensive hotels) to the country's tourism sector which now accounts for 8% of GDP.

The only dark cloud is the old Falkland issue. This week Tory MPs are pressing the UK government to respond to growing economic and strategic harassment by Argentina. Recently a Falklands fishing boat was impounded by an Argentinean coastguard vessel on the grounds that it was fishing in Argentina's economic "exclusion zone". British MPs are also expressing concern over Argentina's growing military forces and Falkland islander claims that Argentina is operating an economic blockade.

None of this attention on the Falklands is likely to go away when in 2007, the 25th anniversary of the war will focus minds on both sides.

Tourism officials always gloss over the effects of this sort of thing on what I call the "white paper" stage of holiday planning. Faced with a selection of 192 countries to visit on the planet, why would any holidaymaker at the blank sheet stage of planning, consider going to a country where there's even a small chance they might be inconvenienced or feel the need to keep a low profile?

EG. "Let's not go to the USA this/next year. It's such a hassle getting in and out through their post-911 immigration & security... let's go to South Africa, Canada or Australia instead"

Far from being sustained, I fear the sudden boost of UK holidaymakers to Argentina is going to turn into a 'blip' on their visitor graphs.

I hope I'm wrong (UK visitors to the USA actually bounced back quicker than I thought) and certainly everyone in the tourism industry on both side of the Atlantic & Equator will do their best to keep visitor numbers from the UK to Argentina buoyant. But I fear the numbers may fall before rising again in 2008/9.

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