While Argentina is expanding its general domestic and international tourism market, it is also building on its comparative advantage to develop niche tourism offerings. Making use of its natural resources and gastronomy culture, the country is developing both wine and ecotourism. Meanwhile, it is also emerging as a regional destination for medical tourism, including both life-saving surgeries and aesthetic procedures.
With the temperate and nutrient-rich topography of the Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja regions, and a centuries old wine-making tradition, Argentina is consolidating its position as a destination for aficionados. Home to around 1200 bodegas (wineries), of which approximately 300 offer tourism services, Argentina provides wine enthusiasts with sampling, sales and accommodation services.
Total bodega revenues reached AR1.7bn ($102.5m) in 2017, of which 70% was generated by establishments located in Mendoza, according to the Argentine Wine Corporation (Corporación Vitivinícola Argentina, Coviar). In 2017, 70% of the 2m tourists visiting the wineries of Mendoza were Argentine tourists, while 22% were from overseas and the remaining 8% were local residents. While as in the broader tourism industry, the majority of the current tourist traffic is domestic, this nevertheless highlights significant growth potential as the country improves its international connectivity and international tourism profile.
In an effort to address these issues and promote the expansion of the segment, the Ministry of Tourism, Coviar, the Argentine Foundation for the Promotion of Investment and International Trade, and the Ministry of Agro-industry signed an agreement in July 2018. The agreement outlines plans for cooperation between these industry associations and the government – both on refining production processes and improving the marketing of the country’s national drink, and the provision of training and the organisation of public events and contests. The steady liberalisation of the aviation industry is also improving the international connectivity to the country’s wine-producing regions, opening up these markets to consumers from around the world.
In late 2017 and early 2018 a range of new international connections were launched from Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Gobernador Francisco Gabrielli, MDZ), located in Mendoza, including regular flights to Lima, Panama City, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile. This increase in flight options will likely contribute to the growth of the niche wine market and provide investment possibilities, Joaquín Navasal, CEO of destination management firm Consolid Latin America, told OBG. Indeed, in the first quarter of 2018, 618,000 passengers passed through MDZ, an increase of 132,000 travellers, or 23.9%, on the same period in 2016.
In addition, the launch of a number of international low-cost services, by both Norwegian Air in September 2017 and the domestic carrier Flybondi in January 2018, appear set to further open up this market beyond Latin America. In a move intended to increase the international profile of the region’s wine tourism industry, Mendoza hosted the second Global Conference on Wine Tourism in September 2017. The event was organised by the UN World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the Argentine Chamber of Tourism and the local authorities of the region of Mendoza, and brought together 640 international representatives. The regional tourism authority presented a new branded plan to enhance Mendoza’s tourism product through the develop of the local value chain. The plan, entitled “Vineyarding in Mendoza – in the Clouds of Malbec”, is based on the WTO Wine Tourism Prototype in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
With some of the leading private health care clinics in the Americas and a robust overall health infrastructure, Argentina is also increasingly capitalising on the medical tourism market. The country ranked 14th out of 41 countries on the 2016 Medical Tourism Index, the most recently published peer-review index available. Furthermore, it scored 17th for the quality of its facilities on the same index. According to the Argentine Chamber of Medical Tourism (Cámara Argentina de Turismo Médico, CATM), the sector generated $300m in 2016, with this figure excluding additional patient expenditure made during visits, such as hotel accommodation, transport, and food and drink, among other expenses. As both medical provision and international connectivity improve, CATM projects this figure to rise to $500m by 2020.
According to the chamber, out of a total of 14,000 medical tourists in 2016, 62% received common medical procedures, ranging from complex surgical operations and diabetes treatment to organ transplants. Meanwhile, 38% of patients underwent aesthetic procedures, including facial and dental cosmetic surgery, and treatments to reduce weight. The most frequently visited city for medical tourism was Buenos Aires 2016, which welcomed 56% of visitors, while 15% went to Córdoba, 10% to Mendoza and 7% to Santa Fe; and the remaining 12% travelled to other regions, according to CATM. Although the quality of care provided and the international marketing of the segment have both played a role in its expansion, one of the primary attractions is price. Both common and cosmetic treatments in Argentina are on average four times cheaper than their equivalents in the US, Canada and Europe.
With a complex and varied ecology, ranging from savannah to rainforest, and a high degree of biodiversity, Argentina is becoming increasingly popular as an international ecotourism destination. In order to facilitate the development of this market, the Ministry of Tourism established an ecotourism corridor through the regions of Corrientes, Chaco, Entre Ríos, Formosa, Misiones and Santa Fe in late 2017.
The corridor connects seven large nature parks and areas of natural beauty, including Iguazú National Park, the Iberá Wetlands and El Palmar National Park. The project aims to develop infrastructure links between the regions’ ecotourism sites and develop the local value chain, while also conserving endangered flora and fauna. Furthermore, the corridor seeks to build linkages between the varied ecotourism offerings of the regions, including hiking, horse riding and accommodation in environmentally sustainable buildings. Over 634,000 inhabitants in the regions covered by the corridor stand to benefit in terms of improved employment opportunities. To promote the development of infrastructure to support the corridor, the Ministry of Tourism has announced that AR351m ($18.2m) of direct investment will be required. To meet these objectives, the ministry will combine public funds with financial incentives for the private sector.
The country’s ecotourism offering also stands to benefit from the announcement in July 2017 that Los Alerces National Park would henceforth be a UNESCO World Heritage site. Government plans are also under way to turn the area around Mar Chiquita Lake and Traslasierra Valley, in Córdoba, into a national park.
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