Summer: how many Argentines went on vacation to Punta del Este in the first fortnight
PUNTA DEL ESTE (Special Envoy).- Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic and a challenging exchange rate for Argentine travelers, in Uruguay the closing of the first fortnight of summer is felt with satisfaction. The East received for the first time in almost two years a wave of travelers that was far from the last pre-pandemic edition, but tipped the balance towards the positive.
In general terms, the Argentines who invaded the seaside resort this summer were those with high purchasing power. With a devalued peso, east end it became an almost prohibitive destination for the middle class that overflowed the peninsula for years. The trend marks, according to figures from official Uruguayan sources, a 30% drop (with partial data) in Argentine tourists compared to the first half of 2020.
“We weren’t pessimistic, but we didn’t have much reason to be overly optimistic either, and this season exceeded our expectations.” considered the Vice Minister of Tourism of Uruguay, Remo Monzeglio, in dialogue with THE NATION.
And he diagnosed: “Argentines who are here right now have a very special profile, a segment that is used to thinking in dollars. Obviously, middle class tourism, with measures such as the suspension of quotas, was limited to being able to come”.
Thus, with fewer Argentines than in other seasons, the distribution of these visitors was concentrated almost exclusively from Manantiales to José Ignacio. In the Peninsula, the “che” was replaced by the “bo” of the Uruguayans, who took over the heart of Esteño. Thus, domestic tourism arrived –just like last summer– to meet the demand that left the Argentine middle class empty.
While some 108,000 Argentines crossed the border with Uruguay in the last days of December until today (The data for the last 72 hours are still to be processed), some 155,000 visited the country during the first fortnight of 2020, the last summer before the pandemic. Thus, the drop in Argentine visitors is around 30 percent.
However, the Uruguayan government does not see it possible to establish parameters to draw a parallel between this season and that of pre-pandemic times. “As of March 13, 2020, the tourist universe was completely stopped, here we are experiencing the renaissance of tourism, which radically changed everything”, considered the national official.
In this sense, Monzeglio predicted that while the rest of the world predicts a full return of the tourism industry by 2023 and 2024, Uruguay could see the challenge resolved before that time. “Because of its proximity to Argentina, We have no doubt that once the economy is recomposed and shoots up a bit, we will have the same mass tourism that we always had”, I consider.
The drop in Argentine tourism affected the real estate and hotel sectors. The Punta del Este Hotel Center –which brings together some 90 establishments– had a decrease in demand of between 20% and 30%, depending on the category of each lodging. “We spent the first fortnight. We were able to”, celebrates the organization’s president, Analía Suárez.
“We met with leaders of the sector and the conclusion is that the first fortnight was good, not at pre-pandemic levels. We are, depending on the category, twenty or thirty percent less than seasons prior to the coronavirus”, indicates the head of the organization.
According to Suárez, the higher category hotels were the ones that showed the highest occupancy rates, while some cheaper ones did not directly open their doors this summer. “That more massive public is missing,” he remarks, and points out that many European tourists also canceled, especially due to connectivity problems with Uruguay.
The hotel occupancy rate for the second fortnight, meanwhile, is -until now- around 40%. “The reality is that, from now on, it is uncertain. You live day by day, with ups and downs in reserves permanently, “he warns.
After a summer of 2021 in which only 4,000 Argentines could enter, the president of the Punta del Este Real Estate Chamber, Javier Sena, considered this high season as positive. “It is estimated that so far 90% of the owners have come, while rents have decreased by 35% compared to the pre-pandemic summer,” he says.
In an analysis of the properties that were in offers for rent, Sena warns that the houses were the most demanded property. “What was left were one and two-bedroom apartments that have few services,” he says.
On average, according to their estimates, between $25,000 and $45,000 was spent on properties facing or near the sea, in the areas most chosen for high purchasing power, such as La Barra, Manantiales and José Ignacio.
“For the second fortnight we think that the owners are going to maintain the same percentage, while the rents can go down even more,” says Sena, and maintains: “The trend is that lodgings are resolved no more than 48 hours in advance due to the pandemic.”
At a health level, the summer came with great expectation and optimism due to the high levels of vaccination. With the limitations of a pandemic season, the prognosis seemed clear, but the advance of the omicron variant came to hinder life in the East.
In the last days of December, the Ministry of Public Health of Uruguay -headed by Daniel Salinas- confirmed the arrival of the variant. Hours later, jumps in infections and a strong demand for tests priced in dollars began to be registered.
Although widespread immunization against Covid-19 allowed the consequences of this wave of infections to be controllable in terms of health, many bars and restaurants put a brake on customer service.
A well-known bank suspended the event of the season with a message to its clients. “The health of the guests is our priority”, he justified, in a letter. He wasn’t the only one.
After a hectic start to the summer, the picnic, a gastronomic bet born during the pandemic had to close the doors due to contagion in the staff. Along the same lines, the historic José Ignacio parador, La Huella, had to cancel thousands of reservations and restrict its capacity by half.
National authorities, for their part, have decided not to impose restrictions. During a press conference this week, President Luis Lacalle Pou noted: “Sometimes not taking action directly is action. In addition to vaccinations, if the recommendations of the Ministry of Public Health are followed, We are somewhat calm within the existence and coexistence of a pandemic.”
The truth is that, with or without cases, Uruguay would not be willing to sacrifice another summer season.