Dear Mr. Fernando Amado, as Director of Tourism of the Municipality of Montevideo, what does Montevideo offer as a tourist destination?
Montevideo offers a diversity of proposals and services, one of them, for example, is the hotel sector, which is not only of high quality, but also suitable for every type of budget.
There is a great gastronomic variety that is distributed throughout the capital, but there is also diversity in the dishes, that is to say that you can taste from a typical grill, with barbecue, meats and offal, as well as international food.
We also have, 25 minutes away from the centre, the wine tourism proposal, a unique place that allows us to get in touch with nature by visiting the wineries, which offer tours where they tell about their historical family tradition. As outstanding activities in these establishments you can taste the different grape varieties, and the emphasis is on the tannat, our flagship wine. Rural tourism is undoubtedly one of the not to be missed, it offers diverse natural activities for the whole family, where you can appreciate autochthonous flora and fauna, canoeing, wetlands, really natural landscapes.
Montevideo has 40 museums of different themes, from visual arts, of great painters, as well as in the heart of Punta Carretas a castle that is wrapped in magic, to a museum that makes reference to the odyssey of the Andes, this very particular museum makes a balance of the history between the survivors and the deceased of this accident. It is a world renowned story, and several films have even been made about it, such as "Viven". The cultural diversity is very large and offers a permanent and varied agenda with different theatre plays, musical shows in big halls like the Solís theatre, like the Sodre.
Montevideo keeps a great secret to carry out these activities, and it is that of all these things we have mentioned, several can be carried out in the course of the day.
The promenade is one of the vedettes of the city, it covers more than 20 kms that allows you to walk along it in its entirety and share the best sunsets. It is a city on a human scale, we have no traffic problems to get to the different points. Added to all this is the possibility of a great sense of security, something important to highlight for those coming from stressful metropolises.
From the moment you set foot in Montevideo until you get to your hotel, you will be able to feel the relaxation of our city.
After a pandemic like the one you have experienced in your country and in the rest of Latin America, what does it offer and how has Montevideo's tourist offer evolved?
The pandemic hit tourism very hard in the world, also in our country and in particular in Montevideo. The encirclement that we all suffered in the world, not only because of the border closures, but also because of the need to deploy all the different health measures of the different countries, meant that the tourism sector suffered a very hard blow. We have to be very, very clear about this blow. There were tourism enterprises that were able to withstand the time it took to return to a certain degree of normality and therefore activity. There were others that did not manage to survive and therefore either ceased to be part of the offer that Montevideo has today or were recycled in other areas. This happened, especially in terms of the hotel industry, where they were recycled and started to do another type of business, to offer another type of service. And then there was a large number of tour operators who managed to hold on and endure. We had a great opportunity, thanks to the prestige of our country, to have been chosen to host the two finals of the most renowned sport in the world in Uruguay. The finals in November of the Libertadores and the South American football finals, both for men and women. On the first of November, Uruguay opened its doors to the world once again, and the arrival of this activity was a tremendous boost for private operators and also for us as a public body. It generated great expectation, oxygen and potential income with the arrival of at least 50,000 Brazilians in a month for such events. This was a great boost to everyone's morale. What followed was a good month of December, and a steady improvement in various sectors. Today we are facing a Montevideo in full recovery.
From your position as director of the city's tourism policy, how do you foresee the evolution of the tourism industry in Montevideo?
Everything to grow, it is a moment that fortunately both the public and private sectors are working back to back, we are convinced of this type of articulation. We are presenting ourselves at as many fairs as possible to promote our destination.
The pandemic created a great opportunity for destinations such as Montevideo, which, although they were previously positioned, now have the possibility of visiting a stable country from the point of view of security, diversity, active and social economy.
Having had the capacity to recycle itself, and that has been done correctly; the hard work in the final and opening of borders, and all that Montevideo's tourist offer has to grow, polish and improve (added to what it already had) but above all taking into account that the tastes of the tourist go at the same rhythm as society, changing vertiginously, we can assure that Montevideo has the capacity to adapt and adapt to all kinds of demands.
Although we have a direct link to heritage, culture, football if you like, we also have a vast rural area in permanent growth. We work every day on all kinds of proposals to develop and professionalise because we know that this is a trend that is growing every day.
Do you think that Montevideo's tourism industry is making efforts to provide creative and innovative solutions to the city's offer?
Yes, I think so, because this public-private articulation allows us to work on data, we are not working on the basis of intuition, even though this always adds up, as it is something very human. One of the things we have adopted as a policy is to base ourselves above all on data, accurate information, and that is why we have a tourism observatory that feeds on data and statistical information from the Ministry of Tourism, but also from Big Data that we hire from the Tourism Division itself, which generates a permanent exchange between the tourism sub-sectors in the department. This allows us to have an x-ray to understand what the tourist needs, and where we are failing and where we can improve, what we can enhance to make it work better.
Working as a team is fundamental, that is why this public-private articulation, as well as public-public, denote, as the question says, the effort that Montevideo is making to have better, ingenious and creative solutions every day.
What do you consider to be the key to the city's tourism offer?
The key is to be a city on a human scale, that is to say that whoever visits us will have a relaxed experience, enjoying the whole range of offers that we mentioned in question number one. We try to make each of these experiences special, Montevideo has some similar offers to many destinations, but it also has very particular things that make it unique and that others don't have. A clear case is the pace of life, which brings with it the possibility to enjoy these attractions in a different way, from a different perspective. The key is the idiosyncrasy of the city itself, which makes the person who comes here manage to "unplug" in a world of so much vertigo while still being in a capital that also has state-of-the-art technology, so it sounds strange to be able to say that in the capital of a country one can really rest.
What does Montevideo offer international tourists that is different from other destinations such as Buenos Aires, Punta del Este or Florianópolis?
A unique city, it is the capital of a country that offers a great quality of life, as well as splendid options for various leisure activities, facing the Rio de la Plata, combining important green spaces with low levels of pollution.
Another thing that instantly comes to mind is that there are no long hours of traffic, you don't have to evaluate so far in advance the request for an Uber, or taxi, even at peak hours, whereas in other destinations I know I have to calculate well in advance and enjoy less of the tourist experience.
The person is a cold figure, and the treatment in general terms is not personalised. Montevideo is going to offer the opposite experience, you are not going to waste time, and you are going to really live the tourist experience, and we bet on this personalised treatment that highlights the quality. It is a great differential. Montevideo is a special place.
What are the basic pillars of Montevideo's tourism policy?
We have 4 basic pillars that we rely on in the present and in the future, on the one hand, governance, that is to say, to deepen the links with both private tour operators and other public entities. The idea is always to generate the best products for tourists. Working with the Montevideo Convention Bureau is extremely important. Moreover, a fundamental policy for us is congress, meeting and event tourism, which is one of the pillars of our work. Montevideo has invested a lot in hosting this type of events, as well as in state-of-the-art facilities so that this type of tourism can be carried out in the best possible way. We have all kinds of halls, from a small one for intimate meetings of 15 people, or 100, or 500, or 1000 and an Antel Arena that has a capacity of up to 12,000 people, and it is so multifaceted that it can be set up as you wish.
Here I emphasise again that everything is close by, therefore, the hotel and gastronomic part also accompany this activity, and it is also here where the efficiency and effectiveness of the destination stands out. During this stay, you will surely discover the charms of Montevideo, and therefore you will surely return not only for work, but also with friends or family.
This type of tourism also brings a lot of foreign currency to the country, so it is also a fundamental point. Another pillar is tourism related to cruises, where we have a spectacular port to offer, in which the logistics. In reference to the cruise ship passengers arriving without any kind of setback. This comes from previous administrations, but now great emphasis is being made to continue growing, one of the turning points was to have attended the SeaTrade fair in Miami, which in part brought as a result that this year we receive 143 cruise ships, which means that between 150,000 and 180,000 cruise passengers will be arriving in our city from late October to mid-March. It is another type of tourism that activates other areas, such as tour guides, city tours, transport, and also in terms of money, for jobs, since cruise passengers in their short stay spend twice as much as other tourists, counting the hotel budget, this happens because the cruise tourist is a type of shopping and consumption tourism.
As a third fundamental pillar, I would mention domestic tourism, which this pandemic has made us see and optimise even more. Those who visit us from neighbouring departments are fascinated by the variety of the product portfolio that exists in the capital. We also want every Montevidean to rediscover his or her own city, which is full of magical places waiting to be visited. Our brand is precisely "Discover Montevideo", so that the tourist becomes part of the city, but this brand is also for all Uruguayans who decide to be tourists in their country or in their own city.
The fourth pillar has to do with Montevideo continuing to be an intelligent tourist destination, for this we are working hard, and as a novelty we tell you that we applied to a competition where 107 cities from all over the continent applied to receive technical support in technology and tourism, which is granted by the IDB, and we are proud to be among the 10 selected. The first meeting was held on 27 June, which will allow us to have an external view of how we stand with regard to technology in our destination, and this also means that we are going to work together with other proposals from the IDB teams with our own teams from the Tourism Division. Being smart tourism means, as I mentioned, having an observatory to understand the tourist, but also making it easier for the tourist to connect with the place where he is from his own mobile phone and to be able to do things from his mobile phone, it means being accessible, sustainable. We know we are well positioned on the continent, but we want to be much better.
As you may know, many of the members registered in the Tourism and Society Think Tank (TSTT) are professionals and academics of the Uruguayan tourism industry, and some of them have asked us to transmit the following question: do you think that Montevideo can host one of the TSTT Meetings where tourism actors from the Southern Cone can meet together with other international ones to study joint and coordinated strategies for international promotion?
Undoubtedly, it is a clear example of an instance of magnitude linked to congresses and events, not only do we have the necessary infrastructure, but we also have the public and private articulation for an event of such characteristics to be impeccable. We had two international finals in a pandemic with the challenges that this presented for various reasons, and we managed to make it a party, without the city collapsing 20 days after the opening of the borders. This type of event is worked on at least a year in advance, however, here it was 4 months of hard work to achieve something that as I mentioned was really enjoyable. It is because of this and other facts that we are sure that it is a challenge, but we are prepared to receive any event, and that they choose Montevideo. It is not for nothing that we have hosted universities, very important organisations from the bureaucratic, diplomatic and international relations world. At the end of the year we have a Flacso congress coming from all over the region and more, in which more than 1500 people are expected. Therefore, we are undoubtedly prepared and receptive to new challenges.
How do you understand the phrase: "digitalisation of Montevideo's tourism industry"?
I understand it as an obligation, in the sense that our objective is to keep improving ourselves at every point, from the waiter who serves you in a restaurant, as well as the receptionist in a hotel, or the transfers, or in the different proposals. In the Tourism Division we have a platform that is the intelligent planner that is part of the tourist offer, which allows the user to select what he/she wants to do during his/her stay. We are going to share the link with you so that you can also try and get to know this tool, which is unique in its kind. Basically, the software shows you the offer according to your schedule, days of stay and tastes or preferences. In addition to working on this, we are constantly updating it.
In this sense, what actions are you carrying out?
Within the framework of one of these pillars, which is to continue working on this technological binomial, we are also working with the ATM (Montevideo Tourist Association), which is a fundamental part of the private sector, but we are also having a great relationship and sharing data with the various associations that have the different products so that communication and work can be even more effective.
In your opinion, what are the weak points of Montevideo's tourism offer and what are you doing to solve them in the near future?
Improving the professionalisation of all the people who in some way have contact with the visitor, since they are the concrete link with the tourist. That is why we are planning training courses for this year to provide tools to those who are already working in the tourism sector to improve every day. We recently had a very good meeting with INEFOP, with their support, to offer this type of specialised courses for certain sectors. Something that today is a must, which is something ambitious because it also depends on the national government, is greater air connectivity, we need to recover or resume, and improve what was pre-Pandemic connectivity, we are receiving as main issuers to Uruguay the Brazilians, second to the flights coming from Panama and obviously the Argentines. Argentina is a constant consumer of Montevideo, so it is absolutely important to shorten the distances of stopovers with all of Argentina and its different provinces. Clearly the river connection is also very important. With Brazil to the north we do not have a direct connection with Rio, in November we will only have direct flights to Miami, we alone cannot push that, but it is a joint work with the Ministry of Tourism, as well as with the national government, which we know is enthusiastic, so we are on this path as well.
The gastronomic, cultural, shopping and other types of tourism, what do you think are the pillars of the city's tourism offer?
Cultural, heritage, LGBT tourism, Montevideo is fortunately, and I say fortunately because it speaks of the quality of society, human, of respect and idiosyncrasy of inclusion, of empathy, it means that Uruguay has had a regulatory body of laws for at least 100 years in terms of inclusion of minorities, and fortunately, this look at Uruguay, Montevideo, and closer in time managed to lay the foundations also of a city like Montevideo where the population of the LGBT community feels a great peace of mind. We must not forget that there are more than 60 countries in the world where anything that is not heterosexuality is considered a crime, violence and so on. Fortunately, Montevideo is far from that, it is an oasis, therefore, the community of the region and the world recognises this, and feels Montevideo as theirs, this makes us feel very happy because it not only speaks about the foreign currency, but it speaks about who we are, about our human side, and this is a point of decision to choose Montevideo.
What projects related to the city's tourism offer do you foresee for the coming months?
We have many that are underway; others that are starting, some that for obvious reasons we do not comment on details because they are in a process and we cannot sell the bear's skin before hunting it, we prefer to see how it works and then communicate, but we have big plans in different areas mentioned. We are coming from a Fiexpo where we had more than 30 meetings, we have a number of possible events and congresses to bring at the end of 2022, 2023 and 2024. We have been to the fair in Sao Paulo, Bogota, we will go to the Fit in Buenos Aires, to Gramado, offering and showing products that we have been consolidating.
We are working hard with cruises, which is not only that they come, but that they have a really good time and decide to return for longer, we are thinking together with the Ministry about the best strategy to have the best experience, we are working with ATM, also with other agencies on new products, we continue to move forward with the IDB, with digitalisation, with aspects of sustainability, with inclusion, we want to have more accessible beaches, we want to strengthen the whole circuit by providing more tools for everyone. Some projects that involve both banks of the Río de la Plata but we will comment on them in a few months.
Finally, in a hundred words, why come to Montevideo?
I would ask you, after all the above, why not come? It has everything: sun, beach, theatres, concerts, symphony, philharmonic, more than forty museums, cultural and historical heritage, traditional gastronomy such as asado and parrilla, high level international cuisine, mate, torta frita, sport, wines, countryside, relax, walking, fairs, night, everything at 10 minutes from wherever you are, the incomparable warmth of its people, comfort, nature, sunsets on the promenade... I could go on telling you but I leave the invitation open to you to come and discover Montevideo.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.