May 19, 2022 3:08 am

Atypical season: the change in tourism that impacts operators in El Calafate

EL CALAFATE.– For the first time in two decades, international tourism in the destination decreased, but the number of national visitors exploded thanks to the benefit plan Pre-Trip, which gave the city back the vitality of previous seasons. With more than 90% hotel occupancy for this second fortnight of the month, the town tries to recover of the strong economic blow caused by the pandemic.

At dusk, when visitors return from excursions, Libertador Avenue, the heart of the city, once again shows the bars and restaurants overflowing with diners, the tourist agencies full of queries and even the relegated shops of souvenirs They welcome tourists with open doors. Gone are the sad images of last year with closed premises and windows covered with brown paper. For these hours, everything flourished again and good social humor prevails in the tourism sector.

The barrage of visitors surprised even the most optimistic. “The Pre-Trip gave impressive traction. We are among the most chosen along with Bariloche and Ushuaia. They are destinations that Argentine tourism had postponed”, he told THE NATION, Alexis Simunovic, Secretary of Tourism of the town, from Madrid, where he is to promote the beauty of glaciers at the International Tourism Fair.

The good weather and the long summer days invite tourism to the footbridges of the Perito Moreno GlacierGentileza: Marcelo Del Buono

Before the pandemic, more than 50% of tourists were foreigners. They came from Brazil, Chile, the United States and Europe. Today those numbers dropped to 15% and the international promotion aims to recover the historical values ​​for the next season.

In this local flourishing, those affected were the tourist agencies and guides who work with international visitors and who must settle for the dropper arrival of foreigners. However, the exchange difference has returned unexpected postcards, such as the rental of charter planes to connect Bariloche and Calafate or the disbursement of large sums in mountain clothing stores.

From the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism, Industry and Related of El Calafate they agreed with the impulse that the national government program meant and considered that this is the first real season since the pandemic broke out, given that during the previous one half of the lenders closed. “The volume of Argentines was greater than expected,” he said Cecilia Smart, vice president of the entity, in dialogue with THE NATION.

Smart, at a break from his work at the Schilling Inn that he manages, explained that from the chamber they are asking for the Pre-Trip program to be extended and request that the promotion of the destination abroad is vital to guarantee the next season that they hope can begin. in September. “We need a good campaign abroad to give foreigners the security that the destination will be open,” he said.

  With chinstraps and care, tourists flock to the city center at sunset
With chinstraps and care, tourists flock to the city center at sunset Courtesy: Secretary of Tourism of El Calafate

According to data provided to this medium by London Supply, operator of the El Calafate International Airport, in the first fortnight of this month, 15,610 passengers were shipped to the destination, which arrived on the nine daily flights that land – far from the 14 services of the best seasons. The number allows projecting for this month the entry, by air, of 30,000 tourists.

Argentine tourism also generated another change: the average stay doubled. While the foreign tourist stayed from two to three nights in the destination, the Argentine chooses to stay more days. In some cases, it is possible to stay for a week. “With the Pre-Trip, people take advantage of it and do many excursions, they don’t just go to the glacier, they take advantage of the navigations, there are reservations for hiking excursions on the ice, they are encouraged to kayak on the lake, or to climb the mountains in a 4×4”, the Secretary of Tourism is enthusiastic.

To the visits to the glaciers in all its modalities –walkways, navigation, minitrekking– and to the ranches and the option of adventure tourism –kayak, rappelling and 4×4 trucks to climb the mountains– new experiences are added such as practicing kitesurfing in Bahía Redonda or astrotourism. This last activity responds to a good idea that was born in a pandemic and that finds more followers every day. “We thought about it with my wife to reinvent ourselves and we decided to bet on this initiative,” he tells THE NATION, Gabriel Bellusci, from Patagonia Night, who has lived in the city for six years.

The experience consists of transferring passengers to a distant ranch 20 km from the city, on the way to Los Glaciares National Park, inviting them to tour the place and share a typical dinner, and then toast a talk on astronomy and observe the stars, constellations and nebulae in the unique Patagonian sky without light or environmental pollution.

Juicy guanaco steak with potatoes
Juicy guanaco steak with potatoesPhoto Courtesy: Estancias de Patagonia. Mariel Figueroa

Between glaciers and excursions, another of the stars of the season is the guanaco meat, which is being served in many restaurants in the city. A cured guanaco loin on honey bread and arugula sprouts, or a smoked guanaco hamburger with bacon, empanadas or a juicy steak, are some of the dishes prepared with this wild meat. Today, chefs and producers promote that become an exotic dish that identifies South Patagonia.

For chef Alejandra Repetto, this meat presents a challenge to cooks. She is the hostess at El Alambique, the rest of the Kau Yatun country hotel and a promoter of promoting this proposal. “It is a wild meat, you have to give it your patience, its cooking time, depending on the cuts,” he said.

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