The business community in Punta Arenas in the extreme south of Chile has begun to campaign to ensure the cruise industry does not abandon the city and is asking authorities for a radical change in the costs policy, which seems one of the main causes for the current situation.
“The problem has been detected and we need to review costs. We need political will and a pro-active attitude from all the sectors involved”, said Catalina Jaksic, president of Autro Chile a regional organization to promote business and development.
The reaction following disclosure that this coming season the number of cruise passengers arriving in Punta Arenas is forecasted to drop 33% from 60.000 last season to 40.000 in 2010/2011.
The warning came from Eduardo Manzanares CEO of Empresa Portuaria Austral which manages the port of Punta Arenas.
Apparently the actual port fees are not different from those in Ushuaia, Punta Arenas’ great competitor. The difference in costs is in the pilots, tugs, signalling and other adjacent services which cruise vessels must pay while sailing along the Chilean fiords.
“We must establish a dialogue table where we can all sit and address the problem. We must be capable of attracting more cruise vessels, because the tourism alternatives exist”, said Jaksic.
However the president of the Channel pilots association, Victor Leddihn denied point blank that they were responsible for the high costs.
“Our rates are made public and are totally transparent. If we compare with other countries we are 35% cheaper. What makes the difference is the tugs working directly with the cruise vessels”, said Leddihn.
However he admitted that even when costs are similar to those in Ushuaia the Argentine port has greater facilities and better equipments to operate.
“The port of Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn have a greater infrastructure which allows them to handle up to five cruise vessels at a time, plus all the buses needed to get the people on tours and moving round town. That is not the case for Punta Arenas”, said Leddihn.
Meantime further north in the port of Valparaíso where most of the cruise vessels that tour South America end or begin the rounds is also on the move to recover the 45 seasonal calls.
“The issue is of concern for the city and the country that is why Valparaiso is leading a campaign to find ways to bring back the big vessels. We must understand that what we don’t receive at an end can be recovered at the other be it indirectly through more activity, expenditure from the passengers and taxes”, said Mauricio Silva the regional representative for Chile’s Ministry of Economy.
Silva said the first move will be to invite all sides involved; members of congress, development agencies, the navy, Tourism Office, Foreign Affairs, mayors of the cities that are suffering the impact.
“Once we get the ball rolling and everybody involved I’m sure we will begin to see practical results”, said Silva.
According to Valparaiso port authorities in the last season 2009/2010 the number of cruise visitors plummeted almost 35% which means 45.000 passengers less.