|Punta del Este's Mansa Beach during high season|
In 2005 Uruguay had 500,000 foreign visitors. Since then, the number of foreign visitors has gone up 600%. Even during the 2008 and 2009 global recession, the number of visitors coming to Uruguay kept growing.
An important industry closely linked to the increase in tourism is construction. The 2011 construction industry in Uruguay added another 2 billion dollars to the economy. While there is new construction going on many places in Uruguay, the majority is taking place in the beach resort of Punta del Este.
For perspective, Uruguay’s total 2011 exports came to 8 billon dollars. And even meat exports, Uruguay’s most famous commodity selling at record prices, did not reach one billion dollars in 2011.
|Montevideo's Pocitos Beach|
The most popular vacation destination in Uruguay is Punta del Este, which is South America’s most popular beach resort. However, as prices in Punta del Este have gone up, an increasing number of people are vacationing in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Many English speakers come to Montevideo to study Spanish and/or delve into the city’s vibrant tango culture. Montevideo also has sand beaches on the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver).
In addition to Uruguay’s beach resorts and Montevideo, the country’s wide open pampas have several guest ranches where visitors can spend their vacation riding horses and living the country life. There is also a hot springs spa region near the Uruguayan city of Salto, where several all-inclusive resorts are located.
|Horseback riding in Uruguay's expansive countryside|
While people from all over the world vacation in Uruguay, the majority of foreign visitors are from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile. The number of Brazilians coming to Uruguay has been increasing over the last few years, due to Brazil’s strong economy and rapidly growing middle class.
|Cruise ships anchored off of Punta del Este|
Cruise ships make regular stops in Uruguay from November through April each year. Passengers go ashore in Punta del Este and Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (Old City). There were 190 cruise ship port calls during the 2010/2011 season, with 230 port calls expected for the 2011/2012 season.
Fifty-six percent of the port calls are to Punta del Este. Approximately 70% of the cruise ship passengers are from Brazil and Argentina, with the balance from the US, the UK, and other countries.
What is the future for Uruguay tourism?
There are a couple of concerns for the future of Uruguay’s tourism industry. One is that the high number of visitors and increased development, if not well-managed, could change the character of Uruguay’s most popular vacation destinations, making them less desirable. The second is the future of Argentina’s economy. The largest number of visitors and investors in Uruguay are from Argentina, and if Argentina gets into economic trouble it will reduce the number of vacationers and spending from that country.
However, the World Tourism Organization reports that tourism in South America’s Southern Cone (Southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile) is expected to have continued growth in the coming years. All indications so far are that Uruguay is heading into another successful year of tourism. The largest public events during Semana Santa (Easter week) in 2012 report increases of 20% over 2011.