“The fear is that we will become a ghost town,” says Agustín in a bleak tone, in charge of a company that offers excursion services in El Calafate. The man says that in relation to last season they only sold 5% of the excursions. The always tidy boulevard, located on the main avenue of El Calafate, accounts for the little circulation of tourists. Hotel occupancy, they estimate from the local municipality, will not exceed 15-20% in the first fortnight. It’s not the season that they expected and the claims of the mayor Javier Belloni (FpV) but who was an opponent of Alicia Kirchner, they are exposed. The secretary of Tourism of the tourist village, Oscar Souto, annoyed with the provincial administration, said that if this continues this season will be “a fiasco” due to extreme restrictions. The tension with the government is latent, while they demand support for the central proposal of having more flights to the town.
El Calafate’s tourist season worries the municipality. Photo Francisco Muñoz / Opi Santa Cruz.
In September, year after year, the strongest season for El Calafate and its surroundings begins. It is par excellence, the tourist pole of Santa Cruz and contains one of the most beautiful world attractions: the Perito Moreno Glacier. From there, a set of offers are given to visitors, who are positioned among the most sought after, minitrekking on the snowdrift, catamarans that travel through glaciers, the days that include one of the most sought-after stays, “Cristina”, located in the heart of the National Park, but many of these offers are dying: pandemic and tourism, it is a formula that has not yet produced a favorable balance in the land of glaciers.
The image is completed with commercial premises in the center of the town of Santa Cruz, which have permanently closed their doors. The posters with the legend “for rent” begin to impact the neighbors. Many restaurants, directly, decided not to open during this summer season, something unthinkable years ago. Hours of operation were further restricted. The concern is perceived in businesses, in residents who know that El Calafate has tourism as its primary income, something that positioned it internationally decades ago.
The pace of visitors slowed. The center preserves a tranquility, which some merchants compare with the winter season, which is not the fortress of the tourist village “but which at least serves to cover expenses,” explained the owner of a place. International tourism, typical of the restrictions imposed by the Covid, is no longer observed in the main arteries, nor in excursions that still seek to keep their offer standing. The pandemic hit the tourist heart of Santa Cruz hard.
The situation is “dire”, said the local Secretary of Tourism, Oscar Souto, in dialogue with Clarín. He has the numbers present, he does not hesitate to explain with them the critical situation of this summer season in which a political quarrel with history inevitably creeps in: the mayor Javier Belloni (FpV) disputed him, thanks to the slogan law, the governor to Alicia Kirchner in the last elections, they were separated by a little 3,905 votes. But apart from a tension that sources in the Calafate municipality are not aware of, the claim places the situation of this tourist season at the center.
“This season will be a fiasco,” said the El Calafate Secretary of Tourism. Photo Francisco Muñoz / Opi Santa Cruz.
“The objective of this season was to reach April with the companies on their feet and at this rate, many will be left on their way. The mayor signed many agreements to cover jobs that were lost within the tourism sector, but it will not be enough to support all the companies in the sector. We see that there is a collaboration of the provincial government that is not in the magnitude that it should be “, said the local Secretary of Tourism to Clarion.
The preventive measures imposed throughout the country by the Covid pandemic are the framework of the claim to the administration of Alicia Kirchner. To date, only three weekly flights have been enabled to El Calafate, against 13-14 that arrived in the 2019/2020 season. The municipal authorities are not unaware of the precautionary measures adopted at the national level, but some of the Santa Cruz government continue “without understanding each other,” they note.
Governor Kirchner was required to “support our proposal that adding more weekly flights is not going to put the occupancy of beds by Covid at risk, we will be at 70%, and we have already made the numbers that show us that having six flights in screen is not going to modify that equation, but it does modify that of local tourism, ”said the official. The government fears for the number of places available in the event that infections increase, a repeated indicator throughout the country.
Why are they demanding more flights? The immediate number they put on the table is that with three weekly flights, with an average stay of four days, about 2,000 beds would be occupied, when El Calafate has 8,500 seats. “At the end of this first fortnight I doubt that we will exceed 15-20% occupancy, when with six weekly flights we could be at 40%,” Souto told Clarín.
El Calafate and a complicated tourist season. Photo Francisco Muñoz / Opi Santa Cruz.
There are more explanations about it. El Calafate is a destination that is not chosen in the short term, according to local analyzes, they are always planned in advance, which is reflected in the search and hiring of activities. “By having only three flights that were sold in Cyberweek, as in pre-sale or Cybermonday, you have little availability for this period, so the tourist chooses another destination.”
This reality is reflected in the agencies that sell the main attractions to visitors. Agustín, who offers minitrekking, told Clarín that sales do not exceed 5%, the cost greatly affects the $ 9,000 that it cost last season, today the figure rises to $ 19,000. It is one of the main offers in the area and the one that least summoned this time. “If this continues in February, March, we will be talking about a critical situation,” he said.
Those who offer catamaran trips, touring the glaciers, evaluate if it is not better to do the tour on a scheduled basis. The operating costs are very high and, obviously, they seek to close the equation: you need at least 100 tourists to avoid losing money when moving a boat. “This is not the season,” one of the main businessmen in the sector told Clarín. Something that they replicate in the Municipality, “this is the antithesis of a season and we cannot understand that it is not being observed in the Province”, they pointed out there, where they do not ignore the political tension, but the axis is “to save this season ”.
The Estancia Cristina, which is reached exclusively by boat, navigating the turquoise waters of the North Arm of Lake Argentino and then the Cristina channel, directly decided not to open this season. Its operating cost is very high and the value to be charged was going to be much higher for the times.
El Calafate in a complicated tourist season. Photo Francisco Muñoz / Opi Santa Cruz.
The Secretary of Tourism of El Calafate does not hesitate in the term he uses: “This season will be a fiasco” and in the talk he reiterates that it is difficult for them to understand “that they do not see (by the provincial government) that commercially we are a mono-industry, that we live off the tourism, we have carried out all the protocols and drills that guarantee that there will be no health risk, the decision is also made by the provincial Ministry of Health, three more flights do not change the circulation regarding the availability of beds ”.