November 1, 2019 / 6:37 PM / 17 days ago

Chile's tourism sector reels as visitors cancel trips amid protests

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s tourism industry is feeling the pinch amid violent protests that have rocked capital Santiago since last month, with hotel reservations down by half and many cancelling trips after the country pulled out of hosting two major summits.

A waiter is seen on a restaurant in Valparaiso, Chile November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

The hit underscores the wider impact of the chaos that has gripped the South American nation for almost two weeks, since protests over a hike in metro fares spun out of control, leading to riots, arson and looting that have left at least 18 dead.

“We won’t be able to endure much more of this, the losses are enormous,” said Ivan Marambio, a manager at the Principado hotel chain in Santiago. “All the hotels are practically empty,” he said, referring to the central area near Plaza de Italia, where many of the protests have gathered.

The impact to tourism-related businesses has spread.

“Tourism is a very sensitive industry, and we’ve seen reservations drop by around 50% these last two weeks,” said Monica Zalaquett, Chile’s sub-secretary of tourism. “And what is tough for the industry is that there won’t be new reservations until the country’s situation stabilizes.”

Demonstrators say they have no intention of letting up on protests, although the streets have calmed somewhat since a long holiday weekend began on Thursday.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who axed a third of his cabinet this week as he scrambled to appease the protesters, also pulled the plug on plans to hold two global meetings that were set to take place in Chile - the APEC leaders summit this month, and the huge COP25 climate change meeting in December.

“We believe that around 40,000-50,000 people were going to arrive at these two events,” said Zalaquett.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had been expected to seal a potential trade deal between the world’s biggest two economies at APEC.

December to February - the southern hemisphere summer - is a key time for tourism in Chile, when many international visitors pass through Santiago on their way to treks in Patagonia, while domestic tourists head to the beaches.

“The tourism industry is very seasonal and it’s now when high season begins. It’s even harder as many tourism firms in the country have endured a long wait for these summer months,” said Zalaquett.

Walter Olivares, selling souvenirs in Santiago, said his sales had dropped around 80% or even more.

“How do we live from day to day and pay our bills?” he said.

Gale Braily, an English tourist visiting the city, said that she had considered cancelling her trip but ultimately went ahead.

“We will be in Santiago for a short while and then we will go somewhere else,” she said.

Reporting by Herbert Villarraga and Sergio Viedma; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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