PUNTA DEL ESTE.- In La Barra and Manantiales you don’t see the classic local arrangements for a new season that begins. In La Punta, the streets are quiet and without traffic. In the best known butchers there is no line. On the golf courses near Solanas there are four players instead of 50 and, if it weren’t for the great gastronomic variety, José Ignacio evokes that old fishing village that many longed for.
With the borders completely closed since December 21 and infections on the rise, Punta del Este has another face. The hotels are empty, the few planned rentals have been canceled and, looking at the beaches, it looks like November. Although during the year and for different reasons the movement of the spa was greater than usual, during the festivities the lack of people is noticeable.
The department of Maldonado (from Piriápolis to José Ignacio) has a stable population of 180,000 inhabitants during the year and the figure usually doubles when summer arrives, according to the Maldonado Tourism Director, Martín Laventure. In January 2020, for example, 136,550 visitors entered Punta del Este. Although the real numbers for this season will arrive next month and the magnitude of the difference is still unknown, informal calculations and the current landscape anticipate a decrease of 70%.
Real estate companies agree that, although There was an increase in sales of farms or top-level properties during the year, led by Argentine buyers, the summer rentals were a failure. In the hotel industry they speak of “lost season”.
“There is no season. The public of Argentines who came to La Barra and Manantiales could not come. The few rentals were of those who thought they could enter the country, but in the end they were canceled. Less than 5% of the market is rented. People you see are owners, or Argentines who live in Montevideo and who have rented houses here for longer periods, since there is no season, there is no price either. What there is is a spa with people enjoying their houses, but it will be something that has never been seen in the history of Punta del Este “, analyzes Sebastián Toti Gattás, from the family of real estate agents with more than 70 years of experience and properties from La Barra to Garzón.
In Manantiales, 80% of the premises are empty or closed. In La Barra, those who opened are all Uruguayans. As Gattás explains, the property market in the resort is marked by 80% Argentines, 15% by Brazilians and 5% by Uruguayans. “There were top-notch sales by 10 or 15 Argentine families who came to obtain legal residency and take their children to school. And the restaurant owners opened out of respect for their customers and their staff, but they know they will not earn money. . There is no season. There is a summer season “, sentence.
For hoteliers, the lack of foreign tourists, particularly Argentines, hits hard: today they have practically no reservations. And betting on domestic tourism is difficult for them because the sector does not provide enough to cover the needs (between 8,000 and 12,000 beds). “Of the 78 partner hotels, only 30 are open. As there is no demand, many prefer to remain closed. The higher-level ones open because, given the structure and fixed costs, the deterioration due to closure would be much greater. Uruguayans dropped out after the new measures [anunciadas el 16 de diciembre]. The same with the Argentines who planned to come. Rates decreased 50% compared to the previous season. But it does not happen because of the price: we have no demand for guests “, explains the director of the Punta del Este Hotel Center, Alejandro d’Elia, general manager of the Solanas group in Uruguay.
“It is a season that is lost. We hope that the vaccine will come out and we are already projecting ourselves into the 2021/2022 season.”
In José Ignacio, the owners who managed to cross the pond this year decided to enjoy their home. In the town, of the 200 properties, there are usually about 50 houses for rent. Several were left empty (at least 10%), in addition to those whose owners could not come.
“The owners of José Ignacio decided not to lower prices until the last minute. They only did so when the President announced that no one else would be able to enter. Many prefer to keep it closed and others do not want to give it away,” says Joaquín “Kimi” Ruibal, from the historic real estate that bears his surname, in the town square.
Prices dropped an average of 30% (up to 50% in a few cases) and the daily rental value was lost because now rents are for longer periods (minimum 15 days, for one or two months, or even annually). “Before, from 12/26 to 1/15, you didn’t sleep for less than $ 15,000 or more. Today for the same price you rent all month,” adds Kimi.
She anticipates that some rents will be “conflicting”: the tenant feels that he paid too much and the owner, not satisfied with the final price, gives him the house less arranged than usual.
Like Gattás, he agrees that sales are more bumpy. “The expensive thing is being sold. In general, the one who buys is the Argentine with high purchasing power. The chacras issue was dead and now there is a lot of interest.” Five hectares, between the town of José Ignacio and Route 9, is valued at $ 250,000.
Accustomed to coming in February, Constanza F. arrived in José Ignacio on December 15 and plans to stay with the whole family for a month and a half. She managed to enter with her children through a family reunification because her husband works in Uruguay. They closed the rent of the house 10 days before arriving. “The rent was difficult because the owners did not know if they were coming or not. What is the value of a house in January here? What one is willing to pay. We came because we got a good agreement for this time. We paid less than half than it usually costs. But it is true that many owners do not have the urgent need to rent “.
Mónica “Cuqui” Gómez Lanza looks for the bunch of keys, opens the house and, with the help of another person, prepares it for a visit from potential Uruguayan tenants who want to spend vacations near the sea in Santa Mónica, where the Laguna de los Pink Flamingos. The property belongs to an Argentine family that this year could not cross the pond and decided to try to rent it through Airbnb.
Tired “of the economic malaise and the lack of justice”, the Uruguayan returned in August after 45 years in Argentina and settled in La Barra. His Argentine friends with properties in the spa, seeing that they could not come, began to ask him to fix the house, pay the bills and see if he could rent it. Suddenly, he found a bag full of keys and alarm codes.
“At first I did it as a favor for some friends. But, since everything is more expensive here than in Buenos Aires, I took it as a job, and the chain got bigger,” says Cuqui.
He says that those who look at properties for rent are all Uruguayans, and that the Argentine owners in that area lowered prices because they are interested in using the house and paying for expenses. “The Argentine owners are very distressed. They love Uruguay, they usually come all the time and they can’t hold out any further. But in these years it never occurred to them to make the identity card. And suddenly it became more coveted than the European Community passport.”
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