Tango is one of the hottest special interests for visitors. // © 2013 Thinkstock
The weather may start to cool off in many parts of North America in October and November but, in Argentina, Locals are preparing for spring and summer, which means lots of warm-weather vacation options that run through April.
“It’s the best time to visit Argentina,” said Javier Echecopar, the Santiago de Chile-based regional sales director for Abercrombie & Kent, which operates a number of tour itineraries in South America. “If you look at the numbers, probably about 30 to 40 percent of sales take place between December and January.”
The allure, according to Echecopar, is that during the spring and summer months, more of the nation is accessible and enjoyable — from the thundering waters at Iguazu Falls in the north to the stunning glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park in the south. The wine country around Mendoza warms up as well, and Bariloche — a popular ski destination during winter months — blooms with color in the spring and summer, offering a range of outdoor activities. The city of Buenos Aires, meanwhile, offers its unique variety of urban pleasures geared to warm weather.
Sales Trends & Opportunities
Many tourism companies and organizations reported slower sales in recent months in Argentina, but that could actually mean more opportunities for travel agents, as value pricing becomes a selling point for the season.
“Argentina has experienced a dip in bookings this past year in both the transient and business segments,” said Rodrigo Tsutsumi, Preferred Hotel Group’s director of business development and revenue account management for Latin America. “Thus, rates are quite low right now across all markets in Argentina. In my view, travelers may come to recognize this and see Argentina as a value destination, which could then lead to a surge in bookings over the next few months leading into their summer.”
Tsutsumi said the rates will especially help agents draw first-time visitors to Argentina.
“The deals available at hotels in Argentina are likely to be so great that not much more incentive will be needed,” he said. “Room rates are at a five-year low. Agents should position the country as an ideal destination for first-time North American travelers to South America who want something different from the classic beach or ski vacation, because it’s the perfect blend between old-world Europe and the new cutting-edge Latin America cities.”
Niche markets have proved resilient even as overall arrival numbers dropped in the capital, according to Patricia Pecora, executive director of the Ente Turismo de la Cuidad de Buenos Aires, the capital’s official tourism organization.
“For 2013, the projections are for a drop of 10 percent in international tourism,” she said, adding that certain segments have shown strength — including travel related to Jewish heritage, cruises, conventions and tango music and dance.
Emmanuel Burgio, founder of Blue Parallel, a company that provides customized tour itineraries and experiences in Latin America, agreed.
“As a new niche, we are seeing a rise in interest in Buenos Aires in Jewish heritage sights,” he said. “We have been able to offer private access to the main temple in Buenos Aires and the Holocaust museum on a national holiday.”
Many in the private sector are confident of booking trends for the coming months.
“Although there is an 18 percent decrease in arrivals to the country, we are envisioning a very promising summer season,” said Cecilia Diaz Chuit, owner and manager of Cavas Wine Lodge, a luxury property affiliated with Relais & Chateaux in Mendoza. “More and more, we are hearing that people wish to come back and do other destinations and stay longer at each destination. They want to blend in with the culture — take tango lessons and cooking classes, participate in the harvest, learn Spanish by taking a two-week course.”
Among those who are optimistic about sales trends is Sandra Borello, president of Borello Travel & Tours, a New York City-based boutique tour operator and travel agency that specializes in Argentina.
“The season is slower than in years past but, gradually, travelers are calling to book travel to Argentina,” she said.
For spring and summer months, she noted that “Patagonia, Mendoza, Iguazu and Salta are destinations that attract visitors, thanks to their natural beauty and good hotel offerings.”
Borello recently introduced a new three-day cruise that visits sites in the Parque Nacional los Glaciares.
Several large tour operators are reporting strong sales as well.
“Trafalgar guided vacation bookings featuring Argentina are up 13 percent for 2013 compared to last year, and 2014 bookings are already up 30 percent,” said Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar USA. “We are seeing a constant increase in bookings year over year, as Argentina has been featured more prominently in the news lately as the birthplace of the new Pope and the interest in traveling to South America has grown.”
Kim Vincent, product and business development manager for the Globus Family of Brands, also reports an upward trend.
“Travel is up about 15 percent to Argentina for this year,” Vincent said. “And the majority of our travelers choose to travel to Argentina between the months of September and April.”
Most likely, Argentina’s enduring appeal helps to keep it in travelers’ minds, regardless of sales trends.
“There is a strong interest in Argentina due to the diversity of the destination, from urban culture and viniculture to soft — as well as extreme — adventure travel,” said Michele Benigno, branch manager and Argentina expert at Worldview Travel, a Virtuoso agency in McMinnville, Ore.
Buenos Aires: Capital Ideas
Summer months have traditionally been the off-season in the capital city of Buenos Aires, but that’s changing, according to observers. Heat may still drive some travelers out of the capital during the summer, but local hotels offer cool relief as well as outdoor activities.
“November and December is a really good time to come down; the heat is not as bad as in January or February, and the city looks wonderful, since it’s getting ready for Christmas,” said Pablo Veloso, general manager of the Buenos Aires Grand, an upscale hotel in the Recoleta district.
Veloso mentioned several festivities taking place in the city during those months, including the Abierto Argentino de Polo, an international polo tournament that takes place in November and December, and Alvear Fashion & Arts, an exhibition of local artists that takes place in trendy boutiques on Alvear Avenue. Clients looking to tap into sports-themed excitement can also consider booking Hotel Club Frances Buenos Aires, a member of Preferred Boutique, which offers an excursion called Argentina Polo Day, including transfer to polo grounds, a polo lesson and lunch.
The Catholic Church’s new pope, who hails from Argentina, even figures into some new tourism offerings. The Buenos Aires city tourism office organizes free walking tours, including a “Pope Circuit,” which highlights the life and activities of Pope Francis. To cool off after the tour, clients can stay at hotels such as the Buenos Aires Grand and the Fierro, both of which have rooftop pools, the Nuss Buenos Aires Soho, which has a splash pool, and the Sheraton Libertador, which has an indoor pool.
Wining and Dining in Mendoza
With some 150 wineries open to visitors, it’s no wonder that Mendoza is an increasingly important stop for wine lovers.
“Mendoza has become more known in the past five years,” said Chuit, whose property, Cavas Wine Lodge, recently debuted three 2,200-square-foot Vineyard Villas. “People are in love with malbec, and the region is developing in a very nice way with new restaurants and more wineries open to the public.”
One the newest tourist offerings in Mendoza comes from Borello Travel & Tours, which has introduced a full-day artisan tour that includes olive oil, cheese and wine tasting, as well as lunch at a winery. In November and December, participants can also pick their own cherries, peaches and loquats, while figs, peaches and plums are the harvest in January and February.
Blue Parallel has introduced a new excursion that allows guests to sleep at a private estate in the mountains.
“So after a few days experiencing the vineyards, they can try horseback riding and hiking, and enjoy a gourmet lunch provided by our guides,” noted Blue Parallel’s Burgio.
For some, the name Bariloche may conjure images of snow-capped peaks and shussing skiers, but this mountain town is also popular for warm-weather outdoor activities.
“Bariloche is a South American ski resort during their winter months, but during the summer months, this chic alpine resort boasts some of the most stunning scenery in the country,” said Globus’ Vincent, who said the destination is among her company’s most popular summer destinations in Argentina.
In addition to tour operators, hotels in Bariloche provide a variety of interesting activities. El Casco Art Hotel, a member of Preferred Boutique, offers a Bike Ride and Wine Tasting Tour that includes mountain biking near Gutierrez Lake and a Classic Short Circuit Tour with Art and Tea, which features a visit to the home and studio of the realist artist Juan Lascano for tea.
Most travelers aren’t aware of the many distinct experiences and destinations that await in Argentina, according to Echecopar, so education is key to maximizing sales.
“The things that most people know about Argentina are Buenos Aires and Iguazu,” he said. “But the country has so much diversity. There are few countries in the world that offer so much natural variety — rainforests, deserts, glaciers, wine country. You can play around to create some of the most contrasting and interesting itineraries.”