Marcelo Eduardo Arze García, Bolivia’s vice minister of tourism, tells Sebastian Shehadi why tourists are turning their attention to one of South America's less explored destinations. 

Q: Tourism is still growing as a key industry in Latin America. What makes Bolivia unique that would snare a foreign investor’s interest?

A: In relation to the rest of Latin America, Bolivia is one of the few places that still offers an untamed land and a journey through the varied cultures that inhabit it. Geographically, Bolivia offers a variety of landscapes, from the Andes to the hot and humid Amazon forest. Culturally, Bolivia is not significantly gentrified. Tourists will be able to see life as it was 100 years ago where people still hold to their traditional customs and habits. 

Bolivia is not a country that will ever build a big coastal resort, given our remoteness from the sea, but what we offer instead is the ability to experience an authentic Latin American land, rich in a diversity of sites and cultures. The latest data corroborates this: while the rest of the region’s tourist industry is growing at a rate of 3% yearly, Bolivia is growing at a rate of 9.8% yearly. We have achieved this with mostly national investment and I believe we are ready to offer the international market significant investment opportunities, especially hotel companies and tour operators.

Q: Why is Bolivia’s tourism industry taking off? 

A: The Bolivian government has been pushing for better infrastructure in the country, both at a national level, by building new roads and renovating the old ones, and at an international level by building airports that have made it possible to reach Bolivia directly, a lot easier and faster. This has led to an upturn of the tourism industry and to the generation of newer investment opportunities in the field. Foreign investors have stuck with their traditional destinations  such as Argentina, Chile and Peru, but they are now beginning to consider the opportunities that Bolivia offers. In addition to the investment openings generated by hotel and accommodations, I would suggest that all the other services required to exploit these need to be invested in as well. What I would not consider as a as tempting investment opportunity is building huge resorts and hotels that cater to mass tourism: our offer is more about the exploration of an authentic and diverse array of sites and cultures. This form of tourism we believe could be particularly interesting to German, Dutch, English and America tourists, but we also want to attract South American tourists, especially given the new faster and more comfortable ways that we have now to reach the country and facilitate travelling within it.

Q: Bolivia has long relied on its oil and gas industry. Do the uptick in tourism signal economic diversification? Could you highlight any recent policy change within tourism that you would like to promote?

A: Our economy has relied heavily on natural resources extraction until recently, hence I would say that we are still at an early stage of economic diversification. One policy that we are satisfied to have implemented is the encouragement of local people to become independent entrepreneurs able to benefit from the tourism industry. Given that almost 60% of the Bolivian population identify themselves as indigenous and live in rural areas, I think it is important to include them in the wider scope of the national economy. To support this growth further, I would like the government to promote more policies that favour engagement from the private sector. Currently we have eight medium-sized companies entering the international market, but I think it is important for the government to push more entities from the private sector to engage in the international market and boost the competitiveness of our country.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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