FT Times UK
by Jude Webber
China’s burgeoning moneyed elite provides just the kind of international tourists many countries long to have – just look at the Olympics, where Chinse visitors have proved the biggest spenders.
But Argentina is missing out on as much as $5bn a year in Chinese tourist spending by having visa rules that are too rigid, warns the Argentine-China Chamber of Production, Industry and Trade.
Argentina boasts attractions ranging from the breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier in the south to the thrashing Iguazu falls; from mountain peaks to lush wetland nature reserves; from cosmopolitan Buenos Aires to rural Andean villages, as well as whale watching and wine tasting. It is also increasingly on the map for Chinese investors, including IBCB bank and oil company CNOOC.
Bringing in the fat-walleted Chinese visitors (the Chamber notes that the average spend for Chinese tourists in Argentina is $5,000 and that China’s foreign tourism is set to grow 20 per cent this year) ought, then, to be a no-brainer.
Except that it isn’t. As the Chamber notes:
Out of every 10 Chinese requesting visas to visit our country at Argentine consulates in China, 9 are turned down.
Only about 23,000 Chinese arrive in Argentina every year, compared with 400,000 in Brazil and 1m in the US, it adds.
Why? Well, as in many countries, Argentine authorities fear visa applicants are not always planning to go home. Argentina has legions of small, Chinese-run supermarkets, most run by Chinese from the south-eastern province of Fujian, and the Chamber notes that “it is true that many Chinese, fundamentally from provinces in the southeast, use a tourist visa to stay on illegally in Argentina”.
But Carlos Spadone, the Chamber’s president, told beyondbrics a meeting earlier this week attended by an official from the national immigration service, as well as tour operators dealing with Chinese tourism and specialist lawyers, had been positive. “I think we can count on goodwill from the authorities,” he said since Argentina is well aware that, if it turns down Chinese applicants, they go elsewhere.
Tourist arrivals are currently at record levels – 1.3m at Buenos Aires’ airports in the first half. Brazilians tend to come in the biggest numbers. And Argentina rose five places in the ranking of the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report in 2011, compared with the previous report in 2009, to 60th from 65th (China is 39th).
Surely, too, visitors – especially high-spending ones – are another handy source of dollars – something Argentina’s government is keen to hoard.
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