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By: K S Sreekumar

ARGENTINA has of late realised its great potential as a destination and upgraded tourism to a ministry.

The aim was to find an alternative development sector for the economy, which ‘boosts employment and modifies regional economies’.

“Tourism statistics have been incredible and the number of tourists and dollars that have entered the country since 2003 have more than doubled,” said Vanina Salerno, director of promotion, Argentina National Institute of Tourism.

“In 2003, we were 40th in the world ranking, with just 17 conferences held in this country. In 2008, we launched a marketing plan and held 115 events, moving within the ranks to number 22. In 2009, we held 145 events and climbed to spot 19.”

Tourism related activities in Argentina represent six per cent of the GDP. While global tourism activity declined in 2009, the number of Argentines travelling overseas kept increasing steadily, she said.

Last year, 4,975,129 Argentines travelled overseas and spent $4.4 billion, which is $1 billion more than incoming tourism brought to the country.

Since 2003, investment in hotels, lodges and motels has jumped 1,000 per cent with the cities of Cordoba, Mendoza, Rosario and Mar del Plata fully incorporated into the international tourism circuit, according to Lic Mariano Vila, market coordinator Asia-Pacific-Africa, Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion.

In 2009, Argentina received almost two million foreign tourists (14 per cent less than in 2008) who spent an estimated $2.7 billion.

Last January, the most intense month of the summer season for Argentina’s tourism industry, an estimated 9.5 million locals and foreigners travelled to tourist destinations in the country, the largest number for that month in the last ten years.

“Tourism is well-positioned to be a major generator of revenue and is fundamental for the generation of employment in the country,” said Vila. “This activity deserves its own portfolio which will allow it to maintain and increase the growth we’ve seen since 2003.”

Tourism is a primary vehicle for job creation and economic regeneration and can be a leader in the transformation to the green economy. Yet maximising tourism’s full socio-economic and environmental potential requires political recognition and supportive public policies, especially given its transversal nature.

The creation of a separate ministry of tourism comes with increasing international recognition of the importance of the tourism sector to equitable and sustainable economic growth. This follows decisions taken by other countries such as China, for example, which has recently identified tourism as a strategic pillar of its national economy.

Arrivals have been climbing in Argentina since last October. In May, the month of Argentina’s bicentennial, the number of tourists grew 18 per cent compared with the same month in 2009.

Some 190,000 tourists, most of whom came from Brazil, visited Argentina by way of Ezeiza International Airport and Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires. There was an average increase of 13 per cent in foreign visitors during the first five months of the year with a million foreign tourists visiting the country.

Among the key attractions, Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina and world capital of tango, has been consistently voted the top Latin American destination in travel polls.

Multicultural, the attractions of Buenos Aires’ 48 barrios meet the demands of even the most seasoned travellers. The must-sees of Buenos Aires include Recoleta with its cemetery (where Eva Perón’s tomb lies), the boutiques, bars and restaurants of fashionable Palermo, the seductive tango shows, the sprawling cafes and charming old fashioned restaurants, San Telmo’s antique fair, countless museums and art galleries and the Hippodrome.

Another major attraction is the Iguazú Falls, on the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

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