Why Now is Still the Time to Come to Santiago–and Chile

by Liz Caskey on March 1, 2010

Yes, you read that correctly. And no, I am not nuts. Let me explain, por favor.

While so much of the worldwide media seems intensely focused on the devastation in Chile, please note that many of these images are from the cities of Constitución, Talca, and Concepcion, over 200 miles south of Santiago. Santiago, for the most part, is fully operational with stable infrastructure and services, just like you’ve been following here via my experiences immediately after the earthquake.

Two days later, damage here is pretty mild (again, the news shows ONLY the trashed buildings, remember journalism is extremely subjective). The situation is quickly improving and normalizing in the capital, and the region in-and-around Santiago. Electricity, communications, and water services have been restored to most communities. The international airport is open as of yesterday for in-bound flights and out-bound flights are reported to begin this afternoon. The flight situation will be normalized by March 5 as the runways sustained no damage. Infrastructure is solid and well-maintained. Major roads are open now and public transportation is normal. Businesses  are functioning. Maybe a little clean-up still, but normality is returning rapidly.

Beyond the destruction in the south, Chileans are rightfully concerned about how this natural disaster could impact their local economy, which at this time of year, depends heavily on tourism, fruit exports, and wine production. The international press, and even the US Embassy, is not helping by painting a picture that the whole country is an utter catastrophe. This is simply not accurate. Patagonia and the Atacama Desert came away unharmed. Friends vacationing on the beaches near La Serena hardly felt the quake and drove home safely to Santiago as usual. In Puerto Varas and Chiloé, while gas rations help allot precious fuel for emergency vehicles and planes, life is otherwise business as usual. Santiago too…well, you already read about life here! These are the other faces of Chile. While we can hardly forget the situation in the south, I want to contextualize this for you guys. This is one of the longest countries in the world, spanning over 30 latitudes. The affected area is perhaps 1/8 of the whole country.

Similar to the when the planes hit the World Trade Center, there were numerous news accounts of how the disaster impacted Wall Street and the US economy. Same with New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Both have thankfully recovered, and subsequently prospered. Chile is no different. Much of the success with New York and New Orleans can be owed in part to tourism dollars that fed the small and large businesses from the arts and museums, to restaurants/bars/cafés, hotels, transportation. Visitors to these cities played a VITAL role in injecting millions and millions of dollars into the local economy. That made a huge difference for the local community. Chile’s situation is in exactly the same boat.

It is a long road to reconstruction. Detours and pontoon bridges certainly are not new highways. These are first steps. It will take energy, resources, time, patience, and a unified effort to rebuild. But please don’t put all of Chile into the “disaster” box, nor compare Chile directly with Haiti. It’s a far cry from that. Apples and oranges.

On behalf of our tourism company, Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences, and all my local colleagues: other tourism operators, airlines, hotels, ground transport providers, restaurants throughout Santiago and beyond, wineries, guides, study abroad programs, etc. please don’t cancel your trip to Chile. With the stable situation in Santiago, and in most immediate surrounding areas near the capital, it is possible to expect trips to Chile to proceed as previously planned. With each day, stability returns and grows stronger. I even spoke with a winery colleague whose colonial family home was devastated in Colchagua. His winery lost a lot of wine but he was grateful to have the tanks and barrels be ready for the impending harvest. He asked me to give him a week or two to prepare to receive visitors again. People here are willing, ready, and have this refreshingly can-do, warrior attitude. No victims around here.

If you have wanted to come to Chile, don’t let this deter you. You are more welcome than EVER in Chile. Everybody will receive you with the warmest heart and thank you profoundly for coming to support the country, especially after suffering such an unimaginable blow this past weekend. Your dollars spent in Chile will stay in Chile, being disseminated to local businesses and mom-and-pop shops, not sent to some multinational giant overseas. These businesses, just like ours to be honest, depend on this to work, rebuild, unite, step forward, and most importantly, desire to continually show what makes this country so amazing–and why we all love it more each day, despite the tragedy. A holiday in Chile is not selfish given the circumstances—quite the contrary. You can directly contribute and help make a difference by supporting the local economy. If you cannot travel or wish not to, buy our wines, our delicious olive oil, our fruit, even our travel guides.

On Thursday and Friday, I will confess that our office was c-r-a-z-y with developing a launch for our English-language food & drink wine e-guides to the capital, Eat Wine Santiago. We had planned on announcing the launch this morning…and then Mother Nature hit Saturday a.m. All of a sudden I felt seriously torn. Was it the right thing to do given the circumstances? After speaking with my caseros, colleagues, other small business owners in the food/wine/travel industry, they nudged me to go ahead and do it anyway. Now more than ever, the entrepreneurial spirit in Chile must step forward to rebuild together in all industries and that includes tourism, hospitality, and exports. By generating new business, this means help for everyone to pick up the pieces and continue to support each other. It is a positive domino effect. Abundance attracts more abundance. My business partner and I decided that our business will donate a very significant portion of the proceeds to a local cause to help in the relief efforts with all the purchases of our Eat Wine Santiago e-guide. More details on that mañana.

Let’s not forget that only last week, pre-Quake, Chile was ranked by Travel & Leisure magazine as the sixth hottest destination in the world. Can an earthquake strip that overnight? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Chile is still as beautiful as it was. The people are still as generous and caring. The organization is still impressive. The food and wine are amazingly exquisite. All this still exists despite the natural curve ball that came our way on Saturday. I hope you’ll decide to support Chile and all its businesses. More tomorrow.

Thanks to Ambbar for the sunset pic of Santiago; and the brave journalist who captured the true spirit of Chileans. Fuerza chile, SÍ, PODEMOS!!

{ 5 comments }

Margaret March 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Very good points Liz– journalism looks for the most extraordinary of situations. The daily routine is not news.
Much of Chile is functioning just fine, though torn with concern for those who are not…

Raeanne Anderson March 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Thanks SOOOO much for this Liz!!! I had spoken with a Canadian radio/TV network as well and was explaining to them those same things (maybe not so much about tourism) but that here in Stgo, it’s almost 100% back to normal – our son even has school TOMORROW! Forward and up is the only way to go from here…looking forward to your Eat Wine Santiago guide!!

Ellen Schultz March 2, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Hi Liz,
I must admit that after watching CNN for almost two days straight I was feeling that perhaps I’d need to re-think Chile as a possible new country for myself. I’d come to Chile after a long period of reading and researching and researching some more. I don’t need to explain to you why Chile had moved to the top of my list, but the earthquake did scare me.
Your columns and a couple of other people I’ve been in touch with have made me realize that every country I’ve considered has a downside.
Your point about tourism returning is excellent. I remembered reading about tourism continuing as usual in parts of Sri Lanka not hit by the Tsunami while thousands lay dead on the other side. Sri Lanka has now ended its war and is beginning to thrive, in some part due to tourists remaining faithful and returning to its beautiful beaches and tea gardens. Chile will do the same, I’m sure. Keep putting the word out. Your business thriving will do more for the long term positive outcome of Chile than watching people loot stores for food. I suppose that does bring in more financial aid, but that’s a short term solution versus your bringing in tourists. I look forward to visiting soon.
Good luck with your new business.

Ellen

Darrell March 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Liz,
Just read your interview with NRW. This was the first true news story I have read that tells the current conditions. Great Job…My wife and I just love Chile and were very hurt to hear of the destruction and deaths in the seaside village of Bucalemu. Glad to hear all is well in Santa Cruz and the wine is still flowing. Stay safe and for all travelers…do not cancel you planned trips to Chile. They need our tourest dollars and it is one of the most outstanding places in the world to visit and the people are so warm and kind. Liz, if you are ever in Nashville please stop by our B&B and say hello. Have to go make breakfast for our guests. Have a great day…Darrell.

Rod March 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Hello Liz and other blog visitors, click the link below for reading other post complementing this one:

http://studeotravel.cl/2010/03/03/earthquake-in-chile-75-of-chilean-territory-untouched/

Saludos! Rod

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