Geysers near San Pedro de Atacama in Chile // © 2017 Mark Chesnut/LatinFlyer.com
Feature image (above): Take a hot-air balloon ride over Chile’s Atacama Desert. // © 2017 Mark Chesnut/LatinFlyer.com
Some of the tour operators who participated in a recent fam trip to Chile were first-time visitors. Others knew the destination well. But what they all had in common is the point of view that this South American nation is ripe for growth on the tourism front.
Rushik Mehta, managing partner and co-founder of Boston-based Coddiwomple Journeys, sees lots of sales potential.
“Chile was one of the first products we introduced, as it fits right into our philosophy of offering highly experiential trips customized to an individual's needs so they can connect to the pulse of Chile’s people, sights and sounds,” Mehta said.
Neomie Menahem, senior vice president of Latour, an Isramworld company, admitted that the recent trip — which was organized by Turismo Chile, the destination’s organization that promotes international tourism — opened her eyes about the destination.
“Chile was not at the top of my bucket list, but now I would consider it as one of my ‘wow’ destinations,” she said. “I fell in love with Chile. The people are warm and friendly; the wine regions are gorgeous and produce world-class wines; the cuisine is excellent and varied; and the scale and beauty of the Atacama Desert was a great surprise to me. I also loved Santiago and could have enjoyed a few more days there.”
Mehta says that Chile’s diverse regions provide plenty of options to build tour packages. This includes the northern region, which holds the Atacama; the Lake District, which is characterized by lakes, forests and mountains; Patagonia, which is ideal for outdoor adventure activities; Easter Island, where indigenous culture is the draw; and the Central Region, which is home to Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and many vineyards.
Catherine Farber, vice president of marketing and communications at New York City-based Academic Arrangements Abroad, says she hopes her company will add Chile to its portfolio soon. She praises several memorable experiences she has had in the country: One involved horseback riding into the dunes of the desert on specially bred and trained Chilean/Arabian horses. Another was taking a hot-air balloon ride to see the sun rise over vineyards and the Atacama, the driest desert in the world.
Farber adds that the Chilean people made her and other operators on the fam trip feel very welcome — especially the team at Explora Atacama hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.
“From the branded van to the thermos of cold water we were given as we were transferred on a hot day to the hotel, everything was taken care of in a quiet, elegant style,” she said. “They hosted us with a lively barbecue one night, complete with Chilean dancers and music. They really thought of everything to make our journey complete.”
Hallie Bates, operations and reservations specialist at Atlanta-based Lost World Adventures, agrees about the allure of the Atacama.
“The Atacama would be the biggest selling point for Chile because it’s so unique,” she said. “It’s certainly our best-seller in Chile. The wine region would also be a great destination, because it produces such world-famous wines.”
How to Sell It
According to Latour’s Menahem, Chile can appeal to a variety of travelers,
“Chile truly has something for everyone,” she said. “It’s great for families, millennials and baby boomers. It can offer wine and gastronomic tours, as well as soft adventure tours.”
Mehta from Coddiwomple Journeys explains that Chile tends to get overlooked by more popular destinations, such as Argentina's Mendoza wine region and its side of Patagonia, Machu Picchu in Peru or the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
“However, that's exactly how Chile should be sold — as a destination that’s just starting to make itself known and has everything to offer the traveler, from the northern tip near Peru and Bolivia all the way 2,700 miles south to the southern end near Antarctica,” Mehta said.
Bates of Lost World Adventures says that travel agents should educate themselves — and their clients — about the nation’s diversity, as it encompasses a wide range of climates, customs, terrains and more.
“Travel agents must visit Chile to truly appreciate what it has to offer,” Menahem said.