No, I’m not talking about Argentina’s brazen grab of private pensions. I’m talking about their decision to start slapping a reciprocal visa fee on visitors starting in January. It means that if your country charges the few Argentines that come to your country $134 for a visa, it will now cost the far higher number of your countrymen and women who go there just as much. Right in the midst of a global slowdown. Nice timing eh?
This hasn’t gotten much press yet since it doesn’t go in effect until January, but it’s lighting up the travel message boards. Word is also getting out on various blogs. You can read more on the Argentine Post blog or you can find some great insight from experienced guidebook writer and part-time Argentine resident Wayne Bernardson at the Southern Cone blog.
As he notes in another post, the dollar is now up bigtime in Chile and while that country also charges a reciprocity fee, they make up for it by eliminating the VAT for foreigners, effectively a 19% discount on hotels. In Argentina, by contrast, foreigners usually pay far more than the locals for hotels and domestic flights.
If you’re wealthy enough to be booking a tour that costs 30 or 40 grand you’re probably not going to bat an eye, but the message boards on FlyerTalk (not exactly a bastion of backpackers) is already filled with “I’ll go elsewhere” posts. You can just imagine what it will mean for those on a more limited budget, like a family of four deciding whether to go to Argentina and pay over $500 as a cover charge or go to Central America and pay zero.
And for some, it’s the principle of it that will make them avoid the country altogether. Yes, the government can spin this as an act of fairness, saying that since they have to pay that much so should we. All true in theory, but Argentina doesn’t have the security overhead or the big illegal immigration problem the U.S. and Canada do. Few visitors from Canada or the U.S. come to Argentina and stay on illegally to work. Then there’s the matter of how much tourism matters. The U.S. government seems to have taken an “if people come, they come, if they don’t, they don’t” attitude toward tourism and in the big scheme of things it probably hasn’t made much difference in the national economy. The domestic tourism industry is far bigger. If Argentina experiences a 30% drop in international tourism though—which is not unlikely in this climate—major crisis on top of crisis. It’s a far bigger chunk of their economy.
In a world where destinations are competing with each other for visitors, this move seems to go against any sense of logic. Each person traveling to Brazil, Chile, or Argentina will pay at least $100 for the pleasure of spending money in those countries. Meanwhile, those who visit Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala will pay nothing. Anyone who has to make a budget for their trip will take that into account. Reciprocity may be fair, but “fair” isn’t always “smart.”