(Correo del Orinoco International) – On Wednesday, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez inaugurated the International Tourism Fair “FitVen 2010”, taking place in Caracas through September 12th.
The five-day international event forms part of a broader strategy to promote Venezuela as a tourist destination. A total of 120 tour operators, 110 from Venezuela and 10 from abroad, are participating in the event. Spain, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina are all present at this year’s FitVen, also promoting tourism in their own nations.
More than 300 business meetings and gatherings will take place over the course of the week, enabling Venezuela to advance as a tourist destination through different programs, packages and exchanges. The Tourism Fair provides 250 specialized guides to explain to visitors the multiple tourist services the country has to offer. More than 700 security officers will provide safety for the installations and those who attend the event, which is open free to the public and includes evening concerts with Venezuelan artists during all five days. A free bus route is available from the closest subway station direct to the entrance of FitVen.
FitVen 2010 also has an international hall; a space in which Argentina, this year’s guest of honor, will highlight its national tourist attractions.
Growth of Tourism
Venezuela traditionally has had little or no tourism infrastructure. Governments during the twentieth century focused almost all investment, development and economic policies on the nation’s vast and rich oil industry, which provides the principle income for the country.
Unlike other Latin American and Caribbean nations, Venezuela never developed a hotel infrastructure, services for international guests, tourism packages or routes to attract both national and foreign visitors. Ironically, the country has some of the most beautiful natural attractions in the world, including the highest waterfalls on the planet, Angel Falls.
Venezuela also has one of the most diverse climates, with icecapped Andean mountains to the west, Amazon jungle to the south, wide rivers and tall waterfalls surrounded by tabletop mountains and unusual rock formations to the southeast, and a gorgeous, pristine Caribbean coast to the north that has some of the world’s finest and exclusive beaches, such as Los Roques.
Despite this immense natural beauty, a majority of middle and upper class Venezuelans traditionally travel to Spain, Miami, Aruba or the Dominican Republic for vacation. Spending vacation at a national destination has been typically viewed as a sign of “lesser status” and frowned upon by the elite.
In 2005, the Chavez government established the Ministry of Tourism, with the objective of developing the tourism industry in the country, focusing first on creating programs to attract Venezuelans to visit destinations in their own country. Recently, tourism packages have been promoted by the government, including low-cost offers to visit the nation’s beaches and exclusive regions, such as Angel Falls and the Amazon.
At this year’s FitVen, members of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) also hosted the smaller FitAlba (ALBA Tourism Fair), with the goal of advancing tourist exchanges within the regional trade bloc. Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua were represented by their ambassadors and agents from tourism services. Several programs, such as tour packages for Venezuelan workers from the social missions to visit the luxurious beaches of Cuba, were consolidated.
Venezuela’s tourism ministry founded its own agency, Venetur, last year, and has since converted several major hotels into a national chain, providing more affordable, quality service. Venetur also works in conjunction with Conviasa, a state airline created a few years ago, to offer travel deals for national tourists and visitors. The company has created several tourist “routes” to rediscover Venezuela, including one within Caracas that focuses on historical sites where Independence hero Simon Bolivar spent time.
Developing Venezuela’s tourism industry is part of a broader strategy of the Chavez government to diversify the nation’s economy and reduce dependence on oil income.
Socializing the Banking System
After the inauguration of FitVen, President Chavez attended an important event at the Teresa Carreño Theater in Caracas alongside several thousand banking employees and communal council members.
At the activity, during which 539 communal producers, family businesses and small and medium size companies were given 9.1 million bolivars (about $2.1 million USD) in microcredits with low-interest rates, President Chavez made several key announcements.
The Venezuelan leader revealed the creation of two new stimulus programs, “My car to gas”, which will offer incentives to switch engines to use natural gas instead of gasoline, and “My home well equipped”, a program created to provide household appliances at minimal cost.
The former attempts to address environmental concerns and is part of larger efforts of the Venezuelan government to encourage conservation and mindful use of water, electricity and natural resources. The program will include a free exchange of older vehicles that use diesel fuel for newer natural gas consuming cars, as well as the free installation of natural gas converters in regular gasoline using automobiles.
The reduced cost home appliance program is a component of the Chavez administration’s ongoing strategies to combat inflation and price hikes imposed by private companies, which generally sell imported products at massively inflated prices. The new, low cost appliances will come from a line of Chinese products recently acquired by Venezuela through cooperation agreements with the Asian nation.
During the socialization of the banking system event, several branches of the Banco del Pueblo (People’s Bank) were inaugurated via satellite. These banks will service communities and form part of the communal banking structure, which provides minimum interest loans for start-up community businesses and credits for local infrastructure development. Income generated through interest at these banks will be invested in community programs and used to fund social projects.
“Communes are to socialism like roots are to a tree”, declared President Chavez at the event, referring to the necessity to continue the construction of the communal system, including its economic structure.
“The socialization of the banking system is key to advancing the construction of communes”, exclaimed the Venezuelan head of state. “We will not rest until this is accomplished”.