With a devalued peso making the nation more attractive for foreign visitors, Tourism and Sports Minister Matías Lammens says the government is eager to attract tourists to Argentina.
Speaking at the Fitur festival (January 22 to 26) in Madrid – Latin America's most important tourism festival – the former candidate for Buenos Aires City mayor says tourists can help Argentina emerge from its deep economic crisis.
"Argentina's macroeconomic situation and its debt maturity obligations will force us to generate dollars," Lammens told the AFP news agency in an interview.
"One of the great hopes we have in terms of generating foreign currency is tourism," he added.
Following the departure of Mauricio Macri,'s government from office, Peronist leader Alberto Fernández has inherited an economy gripped by recession, with its main indicators in the red: inflation is at around 55 percent, a national currency that depreciated by 38 percent between January and November 2019, and a 3.1 percent drop in GDP over the past year as a whole, according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Arguably Argentina's most pressing concern, however, is its debt crisis. with obligations amounting to 93 percent of GDP, with US$44 billion owed to the IMF alone.
To cope with the slump in the peso's value, the Fernández administration has adopted, among other measures, a 30 percent levy for purchases and expenditures in dollars made by Argentines, who are accustomed to saving greenbacks to protect themselves to devaluations and runaway price increases.
However, that state of affairs could be an incentive for international tourists, since the country "is cheap for the European, and it is cheap for the rest of Latin America," said Lammens.
The minister said the Spain is the number one supplier of tourists to Argentina, with some 215,000 arrivals in 2019 – a rise of 8.3 percent on 2018, according to Tourism and Sports Ministry data.
"The great opportunity in Europe is in Spain," Lammens agreed.
However, the ex-president of local football club San Lorenzo also highlighted potential growth in tourist numbers from France and Germany, saying they were two markets "where we can grow." Last year, numbers from those markets increased by 11.7 percent and 10 percent respectively.
A varied sporting offer
Currently, Argentina receives the highest numbers of international visitors to South America, with an estimated 7.4 million arrivals in 2019, according to official data.
Lammens says the goal is to "continue to increase these numbers year-on-year," and by 2020 he expects tourism to bring more than US$6 billion into the economy. In 2018, according to the latest data available from his ministry, approximately US$5.8 billion was brought in by visitors.
One of the strongest bets for this coming year is sporting events, Lammens said. From June 12 to July 12, Argentina will co-host the Copa América with Colombia at five venues, including the new Estadio Único in Santiago del Estero. The country will also host the Argentine MotoGP Grand Prix in April at Termas de Río Hondo and the PGA Tour Latin America golf tournament from March 30 to April 5.
Lammens is also committed to boosting Chinese tourism, he said. Last year, according to his ministry, more than 76,000 visitors visited Argentina, up 6.4 percent year-on-year.
"They are fervent lovers of Antarctic tourism," the official expressed, adding that the country's visa policy will have to be streamlined.
Lammens is also betting on tourism from Argentina's neighbours – which made up 65 percent of visits by foreigners last year. In particular, the minister highlighted the potential in short-term stays from residents in the south of Brazil, which he said "represents a great possibility."
Looking closer to home, the minister also said he understands criticism from companies in the tourism sector who argue that the 30-percent levy on purchases made in dollars and payments for services in the currency discourages Argentines from traveling abroad.
However, he defended the government's position, saying it is an "absolutely extraordinary" measure, which seeks "not only to take care of the dollars, but to underpin a rapid economic reactivation."
For now, the dissuasive effect of the levy seems to have stimulated local tourism instead, he argued.
Camilo Alberto Kahale, president of the Economic Federation of the Province of Buenos Aires (FEBA), recently said that the so-called tourist dollar levy had "contributed to an increase in the demand for domestic tourism," adding that "several summers ago we didn't see so much movement in the different tourist areas of the country."
by Álvaro Villalobos, AFP
Lammens eyes European, Chinese tourists in bid to boost economy