As I write, Argentina is still under lockdown and all travel is prohibited, with all flights grounded, and there are no signs from the government of when and how this will change. It is now the world’s longest lockdown, at well over six months long. At the beginning, people were generally satisfied with the state’s quick response to the global situation, as cases remained low and the hospitals remained empty for many months during the southern hemisphere winter.
However, whilst mask use has been compulsory and universal, as the lockdown grew longer and longer people began to lose patience and break the rules (something we are very good at in Argentina!), with the police also seemingly getting bored and turning a blind eye to any transgressions. So now we have the “no-lockdown lockdown”, and cases have risen sharply in the past month or two.
Thankfully, the death rate seems to be lower than it could be in Argentina, despite the rising number of cases. No one knows for sure why - but it is probably a combination of widespread mask use keeping the viral load low in cases of contagion, excellent medical staff, and also the low obesity and diabetes rates may have helped in this regard.
H&T closed our offices in downtown Buenos Aires in mid March, at the end of a very busy peak season with a record number of guests having enjoyed incredible trips. The high season here runs from October to March, so whilst this pandemic has been a headache for all, we are thankful that it happened at the end of a récord season and not in the middle of it - this has allowed us to have a chance to ride out the storm.
Unfortunately, like almost every travel company, we have had to downsize and have not been able to keep the whole crew together, but we still have an excellent team of people, working from home helping to reprogramme trips for our guests and make bookings for the 2021/22 season. They are doing an amazing job, we want to thank them for their hard work and positivity. We meet up several times a week on Zoom to talk to hotels and guides around the country, using the time to improve our local knowledge and connect to our network throughout Argentina. You can "meet" the team via our Instagram posts, so far we have introduced Raul and the company's founder Jose, and Alvaro is next in line for public presentaion/shaming!
Today is the first day of spring, and the sun is out, winter is over, and despite the global situation, we remain hopeful for the future of Argentina as a travel destination. One of the great things about Argentina is the endless space - this is the eighth largest country on the planet with only 44 million people - around half the population of Germany - most of whom live in the Greater Buenos Aires area.
We know that travel will present challenges over the coming seasons, especially long haul travel, but if you are looking for somewhere to get away from the crowds, then Argentina is the ideal destination. Patagonia in particular has wonderful, isolated ranches and hotels where you can roam for days on end without meeting anyone. There are endless possibilities for trekking, horse riding, or exploring in a vehicle. Vast open landscapes, huge skies, clean, fresh air and giant glaciers all add to the feeling of purity, just what is needed after being shut up at home for so many months!
In terms of what measures will be required to travel safely, we have signed up to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels standard, but we are still waiting for the Argentine government to produce universal protocols, so that we can have a quality standard to give guests peace of mind that basic hygiene standards have been respected. However, the hotels, ranches and properties that we work with have all taken these months to develop their own exhaustive health and cleaning protocols, and we are confident that we can safely manage any risk and start to sell trips.
We envisage that self drive trips will be even more popular when travel opens up again, as having your own vehicle allows guests to isolate themselves and still explore. For this type of trip, we have developed a series of excursions where the guide will travel by themselves to the start point of the activity - a mountain trek, a kayaking excursion, a wine tour - allowing the guests to drive there and meet the guide in situ and interact in the open air, thus reducing the risks. This also allows us to make use of our local knowledge and expertise and offer wonderful experiences to guests, whilst still enabling them to have an independent, isolated trip.
However, a fine balance needs to be struck - with the “new normal” we cannot sacrifice the gains made in responsible tourism, we cannot allow the environment to suffer, and we must recognise that travel depends on local interactions, if we remove them then we risk travel becoming a fish bowl, where we observe the destination without any of the meaningful contact that so enriches us all.
So many challenges remain, but we are a resourceful group and we are confident that we can overcome them and continue to offer amazing experiences to guests and important income to communities that depend on tourism to survive.
We look forward to seeing you in Argentina in 2021 and beyond!