Argentina is set to see an increase in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) tourists who accounted for 17.8 percent of visitors in 2008, thanks to the same-sex marriage bill that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed into law yesterday evening.
Tourism Minister Enrique Meyer, one of the opening speakers at the third annual GNetwork360 tourism and marketing conference yesterday, talked to the Herald about the effect of the new law.
He said: “Argentina is already standing out. Two days ago I was told that interest in terms of tourism is already rising as this is a country that is more open than others in terms of rights and how it treats its citizens.”
Meanwhile, Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, respectively president and chief executive as well as co-founders of the US National Gay/Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), said the day-old law will encourage even more LGBT tourism to a country that is already considered gay-friendly.
The duo, who were invited to Government House to watch the President sign the bill into law, are also set to speak at GNetwork360 today.
Mitchell said: “Argentina is a very important country for our chamber, especially with everything that has occurred in the past week and it is setting the stage for freedom and equality around the world.
“From an economic perspective it is also important for travel and tourism.”
Nelson added: “The US and Argentina are one of each other’s largest trading partners so being here (at this conference) is vitally important in maintaining that.”
Discussing the effect of the day-old law on tourism in Argentina, Mitchell said: “The law is going to be a big plus, particularly with tourism coming from the US. And when you have someone at a presidential level standing up and saying ‘Argentina is a free and equal place for all,’ that really is a message that reverberates around the world.”
LGBT travellers from the US shell out more than 65 billion dollars a year on tourism, according to the business chamber, and 84 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people hold a valid passport, compared with 32 percent of heterosexuals.
And according to Pablo De Luca, one of the conference‘s organisers, gay tourists spent 1.1 billion dollars in 2008, with 850 million dollars of that spent in Buenos Aires, a figure that looks set to increase following yesterday’s new law which is a first in Latin America.
“We can’t measure it exactly but we are conducting a study to have a clearer idea about how much money LGBT tourism brings into Argentina,” said Meyer.
“What I can say is that this sector is growing extremely well in the country and we want that to continue. The actions taking place within private-public partnerships are helping to position us all. Although Buenos Aires is very popular with LGBT tourists, Bariloche and Mar del Plata are also developing activities to appeal to that sector.”
The minister was awarded a certificate of appreciation by the NGLCC yesterday evening in recognition of his lengthy career in the tourism sector. The US business chamber called him dedicated, referring to an Easter Sunday meeting they attended with the Minister and conference organisers.
Although he played down his specific support of the LGBT sector, Meyer said: “I’ve worked in tourism for 40 years and I want the whole segment to be successful. I want all the alternatives to keep on growing, from bird watchers to fly fishermen.”
With tourism numbers reaching 2.7 million in 2008 and 459,000 accounting for LGBT travellers, according to De Luca, figures may nearly double in 2010. “This might be the year that Argentina tops the five-million visitor mark for the first time,” he added.
Same-sex marriage law signed
Following on from the Senate’s nod of approval last Thursday with a 33-27 vote in favour, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (photo) became Latin America’s first president and the tenth world leader to sign same-sex marriage into law yesterday, saying: “Today we are a slightly more equal society than we were last week.” Gay rights activist groups such as the LGBT Federation and the Homosexual Argentine Community attended the ceremony which enacted Law 26,618, and cheered the President’s arrival at Government House. After receiving various plaques and tributes recognising her support of the law, which now bestows equal rights to gay Argentine couples in terms of marriage, adoption and inheritance, the President said: “These are things that should unite us rather than divide us” adding that “we aren’t enacting a law, we are enacting a social construction”. Taking seven years to come to fruition, the President acknowledged it had been a lengthy process for Argentina to make same-sex marriage legal.
She said: “Perhaps we could have done this sooner but everything takes its time.”