5 March 2010

Australians should visit Chile once the worst of the clean-up is completed from last weekend’s earthquake, an expert on disaster management and recovery tourism from The University of Queensland says.

UQ School of Tourism Associate Professor Brent Ritchie said it was important to support Chilean tourist operators to help them recover and rebuild.

``It is expected that Chile’s tourism industry will recover relatively quickly if foreigners come to the country and help boost the economy,’’ Associate Professor Ritchie said.

The comments come as the first international flights have started to leave from the capital city of Santiago, with tents on the tarmac used in place of the damaged passenger terminal.

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is advising people to ``reconsider your need to travel to Chile at this time due to extensive earthquake damage’’.

The department’s website said aftershocks were expected in the wake of Saturday’s earthquake, measuring 8.8 on the Richter magnitude scale and centred on the town of Concepcion, about 300km south of Santiago.

``Large numbers of people have been affected. There has been widespread damage to major infrastructure, including roads and buildings,’’ the website said.

The US Department of State also advised people to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Chile.

Associate Professor Ritchie said infrastructure was likely to be restored quickly, so overseas visitors could soon fly to Chile again, make their way around and find accommodation.

It meant travellers already booked to visit Chile in the coming months should consider going ahead with their plans, he said.

``Reports suggest that important tourist infrastructure such as the damaged airport terminal in the capital, electricity and telecommunications will be quickly restored,’’ he said.

``The impact on Chile’s tourism infrastructure and product has been relatively limited, due in part to their previous experience with seismic activity and good building codes acting to mitigate or reduce the damage.

``Chile has its problems but it will recover. It is a beautiful country and people should consider going there. Don’t forget Chile because of the earthquake. People staying away in the coming months could really hurt the tourism industry there.’’

Academic and director of industry and government partnerships, Dr David Solnet, said the School of Tourism would be involved in helping the tourist industry pick up the pieces, with disaster and recovery advice, planning help and moves to strengthened university and government partnerships.

The school had made links with three Chilean universities, had bid for tourism planning projects, set up research partnerships and was part of an eco-tourism conference, Dr Solnet said.

``Tourism is a very important part of the governmental initiatives in Chile, knowing that sustainable tourism provides clear and effective economic benefits.’’

Media: Brent Ritchie (0413 938 115), David Solnet (0411 828 757) or Erik de Wit (0417 088 772)