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A difficult year for tourism in Bolivia

When reviewing international tourism statistics and trends, it is interesting to see that in the last year worldwide tourism grew by 7%, generating more than 1,326 million international tourist arrivals and revenues of 1,340 billion dollars, representing 10% of world GDP (UNWTO data), in addition to their respective positive economic effects for different countries and tourist destinations. It is in this way that tourism today is totally immersed in the economy of hundreds of countries at the international level and for many of them it is within their five priority economic activities. It is worth mentioning the case of France, which receives 87 million visitors a year.

Of course, in the case of our continent, tourism also means an important economic contribution; the United States is the country that receives more income and visitors, and for South America, countries like Peru, Brazil, Argentina take good advantage of their resources and tourist offer to satisfy the needs and tastes of the international visitors’ demand.

In this way, their respective government agencies invest millions of dollars to capture this tourist demand, providing better services, better accessibility and, of course, generating aggressive promotional actions, among others.

In the case of our country, even though the Constitution mentions that tourism is a strategic economic activity, we still have to prove in a regrettable way that tourism does not have a place of importance at present. Although we have a Ministry of Culture and Tourism, this activity is still not considered an important source of income for our country, perhaps it is underestimated because of its intangible character and we continue to depend totally on the income from gas and other natural resources, a thought that has not changed in decades.

It is enviable to see that other countries are doing very well with tourism, while in ours the demand for visitors has fallen disastrously, although official data from the Vice-Ministry of Tourism indicates that we would be receiving almost one and a half million foreign visitors. It is evident that this figure does not match the real tourists that we can see on the streets and in the tourist sites of our country; in fact, in the last few months what should have been a high season, ironically was quite low, which made several tourist companies of different types close down. It is worth mentioning that one of the destinations that has declined catastrophically in recent times is Rurrenabaque, which several years ago received a significant number of visitors, but today the number of tourists remains practically at a minimum.

Some aspects that are not allowing tourism to grow and develop are: the low government priority, that is, it does not prioritize the tourism sector as strategic and consequently is not invested in it; there are no clear and efficient policies for the development of the tourism offer. Although some conditions have been improved, such as the Copacabana airport, it does not have one commercial flight per year and is closed; international connectivity by air has been lost, as in the case of flights to Miami from La Paz, so several lines have left or are not operating at this time. A deficient air link is to restrict the entry of visitors to our country. Our direct international connection is limited to a few international flights, only 5 to the capitals of other countries; on the other hand, no training programs are being carried out to improve the provision of services or to improve their quality.

Another regrettable aspect is that our country does not carry out clear and efficient tourism promotion strategies in international markets. It is worth clarifying that a little more than a year ago the new country brand “Bolivia corazón del Sur” was launched, which unfortunately is not positioned at an international level. Finally, one of the problems that makes it very difficult has to do with the constant blockades and social problems, like the last one in the town of Copacabana, harming tourism and the free transit of visitors to different areas. It is also worth mentioning the case of social conflicts on the Island of the Sun, one of the most important attractions of Lake Titicaca, due to problems between communities, mainly due to economic interests. This generates a great problem for the tourism sector, including security and a bad image, as with the case of the South Korean tourist murdered there.

Therefore, with all these aspects and many others that were not mentioned in this article, it is regrettable to point out that it was not a good year for tourism in our country. Let’s hope that by 2019 we will move towards a true policy and efficient action for the development of tourism and for all Bolivians to benefit from this sublime activity, because, as it is commonly said, tourism is like rain, since when it arrives it wets everyone, referring to the broad positive benefits that the activity generates.

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