SANTIAGO, CHILE – Travel Agent had the opportunity to sit down with Pablo Moll Vargas, general manager of Turismo Chile, on Tuesday as part of the USTOA 2010: Out of the Country Meeting in Chile and talked about everything from the earthquake to Chile’s needs to narrow its marketing campaigns.
“If I say, “kangaroo,’ you will tell me that’s Australia; If I say, ‘tango,’ you will tell me that’s Argentina and if I say ‘Machu Picchu,’ you will tell me that’s ‘Peru,’” he says. “But what if I say, ‘Chile?’ What would you say?
“Chile doesn’t know what it is because we are everything,” he told us. “We are deserts, we are lakes, we are glaciers, we are rainforests, we are wine country, we are everything. So it becomes tough to market.”
Instead, Chile needs to concentrate more on these individual niche markets instead of pushing the country as a whole. And Travel Agent agrees that this is the most effective way to deliver Chile’s product.
During our week there, we saw how diverse Chile was from its Manhattan-like atmosphere in Santiago to its rainforests and glaciers deep in Patagonia. The only problem was it takes about an additional 24 hours of travel to see all of this when you factor in the bus rides, boat rides and connecting flights to see these two sides of the county.
And that may not be something most American travelers, who have roughly four days of vacation time to spend, are willing to do.
As far as the effect of the earthquake on Chile’s tourism infrastructure, Vargas says the media blew it out of proportion. And Travel Agent agrees.
Santiago, which was reportedly crushed by the quake when news of it first broke, looked virtually untouched when we were there aside from some cracks in buildings and some roofs that needed repair.
In fact, Vargas says most of the quake’s damage was about 500 kilometers south of Santiago in a domestic region where tourists don’t really visit. About 500 people were killed in Chile, which is relatively low considering it was an 8.8-magnitude quake, 400 times stronger than Haiti’s.
So how was the country able to escape a similar fate? Well, Chile is basically built like a rock.
And it has to be.
The country was the victim of the world’s greatest earthquake, a 9-5-magnitude earthquake in 1960. And ever since that, the structures have been built to fend off all future earthquakes.
Vargas said Chile usually gets one every 30-40 years, so don’t expect one anytime soon.
But despite the quake, Chile has had a very successful year with it’s leisure market increasing in the last few years. He attributes this to the country’s decision to host several industry events in the last year including September’s TravelMart Latin America and now this recent USTOA meeting.
“I’d say within the last four years, we’ve decided to use our money differently," Vargas says. “It’s not like we had a larger budget than we had in past years, but we just decided to put it into different areas like these meetings and becoming a stronger presence in the industry and it’s paying off."
When someone says, “South American country on the rise,” Travel Agent bets most experts will say, “Chile.”