According to several sources, Argentina’s Ministry of Tourism forecasted that 2010 would set a new record number of foreign visitors to this South American nation, which enjoyed a 32% overall growth in arrivals during the summer months from 2002-2009 according to the Bureau of Market Research and Statistics SecTur. Since greed is a constant and proven threat to sustainability worldwide, I asked what, if anything, is being done to ensure that nature-based tourism (not to be confused with the term “eco-tourism”) in Argentina is enjoyed without jeopardizing the quality and sustainability of the resources themselves?
The government of Argentina realized the importance of tourism and responded to the growth by forming a separate Ministério de Turismo in July 2010. Better late than never, I thought as I typed in their web address www.turismo.gov.ar , admittedly skeptical of what I would find in way of information pertaining to sustainable travel. Pleasantly surprised, I found a website, much more progressive and focused of sustainability than I had expected: Offered in English, Spanish and Portuguese, the site divides tourism geographically and into seven subcategories: active tourism, sport tourism, world heritage, cultural tourism, special interest, health tourism, and Route 40 (which traverses Argentina north-south). I also learned that Argentina made the list “The Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations 2010/2011”, generated by Ethical Traveler, a non-profit organization formed to “empower travelers to change the world”. This annual ranking is based on categories such as environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights.
Humbled and encouraged by what I found on a national level, I turned my focus to San Martin de los Andes, a town of 24,000 residents in the Nequén region of Patagonia, Argentina, which can easily be referred to as “Chamonix Mont Blanc of the Andes”.
Much like its French counterpart, tourism is the main socioeconomic activity of San Martin de los Andes, due to the abundant natural resources in the area. The influx of tourists during peak seasons is remarkable, and Brazilians, Porteños from Buenos Aires, Chileans, Europeans, Canadians and Americans fill every café, hospedaje, kayak, and lift chair July through September for snow based activities, and December through March for all imaginable outdoor activities not requiring snow, from hiking, sailing, and climbing, to fishing and horseback riding. Just like the Alps, but in Spanish and without the cows.