By Yolanda Salazar
La Paz, Jan 27 (EFE).- The stunning vastness of the Uyuni Salt Flat, the bi-national Lake Titicaca and Nevado Sajama – Bolivia’s tallest peak – are seen as crucial to the continued revival of the Andean nation’s tourism sector in 2022, a senior official said in an interview with Efe.
Deputy Tourism Minister Eliana Ampuero said domestic tourism picked up starting last year and will continue to be the focal point going forward, with a special emphasis on natural outdoor destinations.
“The trend among today’s tourists is to go to natural areas with open spaces where they can be in contact with nature and feel safe against Covid-19,” Ampuero said.
She said 1.1 million people traveled domestically to different parts of Bolivia last year, generating an economic impact totaling approximately $130 million.
Ampuero pointed out that the top tourist destinations of 2021 included the emblematic Uyuni Salt Flat in the southwestern Andean department of Potosi; Lake Titicaca, which straddles Bolivia and Peru and is the world’s highest navigable body of water; and El Fuerte (Fort Samaipata), a pre-Inca archaeological complex in the eastern department of Santa Cruz that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
The deputy tourism minister also hailed the “important impact” of a November 2020 decree by President Luis Arce that promotes the recovery of Bolivia’s tourism sector by incentivizing government employees to purchase tourism packages, as well as increased vacation days provided by companies to workers who travel to a domestic destination.
“If Bolivians keep learning about their country, the economic dynamic will spread throughout the national territory. It’s very important for generating knowledge, development and also so Bolivians” feel empowered to effect change, Ampuero said.
Domestic travel last year rose around 70 percent compared to 2020, when the flow of internal tourists amounted to just 300,000 due to severe Covid-19 restrictions, yet it still fell short of the 1.6 million domestic tourists in 2019.
Separately, around 500,000 Bolivian ex-pats and other travelers arrived in the country from abroad in 2021, generating $179 million in foreign-exchange income.
Most of those international arrivals came from countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, China and Japan, Ampuero said.
The deputy minister noted that international visitors no longer must quarantine for 10 days upon arrival but only show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 and a negative result from a PCR test taken within 48 hours, adding that this change is expected to help boost tourism flows.
She said efforts are being made to identify other “emerging” destinations for promotion in 2022 but noted that since last year the ministry has been encouraging at least 55 municipalities to develop their “tourism products” and receive training in biosafety protocols.
A total of 391 tourism guides also have been trained, and 342 companies have been certified as biosecure tourism service providers.
Tourism has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, a situation that led to many guides switching jobs or becoming unemployed, the president of the Bolivian Tour Guides Federation, Alan Huaman, told Efe. EFE