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Chile underscores cruising's importance, new facilities coming to southern ports

Chilean representatives at Seatrade Cruise Global including new Tourism Undersecretary Verónica Kunze Neubauer, fourth from left, and Epaustral's Rodrigo Pommiez Aravena, second right
Infrastructure improvements are coming in southern Chile at Puerto Williams, where Silversea will homeport next season, and at Punta Arenas as the country affirms cruising's positive economic impact.

Developments were shared at Seatrade Cruise Global, led by Chile's recently appointed Tourism Undersecretary Verónica Kunze Neubauer.

'Cruises are very important for us' because passengers 'spend quite a lot of money in comparison to other types of tourism so it's a huge impact,' Kunze said, generating income for restaurants, tour operators, vineyards and other small businesses. Some 70% to 80% of cruise travelers spend at least one hotel night in Chile, typically in Santiago.

Also, a 'high percentage' of cruisers return as stayover visitors within two to three years, according to Kunze, which benefits destinations beyond the ports.

Both expedition and traditional cruises are important, she added.

Puerto Williams, as earlier reported, will host Silversea's three-ship Antarctica program in the 2022/23 season, with Conrad Combrink, SVP expeditions, turnaround operations and destination management, calling the port a 'magnificent gateway.'

Growth potential

'We see huge potential for providing services to ships visiting Antarctica and the opportunity to increase calls year by year,' said Rodrigo Pommiez Aravena, GM of Empresa Portuaria Austral (Epaustral), which supports cruise operations in Punta Arenas, Puerto Williams and Puerto Natales.

Silversea is redeploying its ships from Ushuaia, Argentina, but Pommiez considers the ports in both countries as complementary, stating: 'We need to work together to improve cruise services for Antarctica.'

Puerto Williams access bridge and terminal

At Puerto Williams, where Epaustral handles services to cruise ships that use the navy's facilities, berthing will be facilitated by a new 150-meter, dual-channel access bridge. This has a covered pedestrian walkway on one side and a lane for service/provisioning vehicles on the other. A 12-meter platform for tender landings will come in handy when multiple ships are in port. This $35m project is to be completed by March 2023.

Works in a second stage, from 2023 to 2025, include a 1,590-square-meter multipurpose terminal, a $21m investment. The facilities will accommodate one ship up to 240 meters and 8.5-meter draft or two ships of 120 meters. The project will be executed by the Department of Port Works of the Ministry of Public Works.

Puerto Williams normally has about 14 or 15 cruise calls per season. The Silversea business will double that, Pommiez said, adding that with the new terminal, the port can double its cruise capacity again, to about 60 calls.

Expanded berthing at Punta Arenas

At the bigger, busier Punta Arenas, where the A. Prat terminal's berth was lengthened to 250 meters in 2016-2017, a second stage of improvements this season will add a third dolphin, a new mooring post and fenders to expand the pier's capacity for ships up to 300 meters with 8.25 meters draft. The investments totals $17m.

And an expansion project at the Guardián Brito Terminal for the 2022/23 season has two options: mooring bollards or buoys, to be determined, in an investment of approximately $300,000 to $400,000.

Punta Arenas had 90 cruise calls in the 2021/22 season, of which 60 were Antarctica-bound. Before the pandemic, it handled more than 150 calls. Pommiez hopes the 2022/23 season will be back to about 80%-85% of normal.

Puerto Natales, located in the Señoret Channel and the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, takes smaller ships, up to 150 meters, and typically has 10 to 12 cruise calls per season.

At Seatrade Cruise Global, Chilean officials met with cruise lines and with cohorts from Argentina and Uruguay. The countries aim to work together to develop cruising.


Cruisers 'spend quite a lot of money in comparison to other types of tourism,' Verónica Kunze Neubauer said

Safe destination with visitor attractions open

Kunze's key message to cruise lines was that Chile is a safe destination with almost 94% of the eligible population vaccinated for COVID-19, and that visitor attractions, from parks and vineyards to restaurants and shops, are open.

One of her first priorities has been working with public health officials to facilitate more flexible policies for visitors. Currently, vaccination is required to cruise along with a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours before arrival at the first port. Kunze said she'll keep lines apprised of any changes for next season when, it is hoped, the pandemic protocols won't need to be so stringent.

Chile has been voted 'best adventure destination,' making it right for the zeitgeist. 'People are looking for open spaces, national parks, natural attractions,' Kunze said.

Marketing and promotion are vital to ensure awareness of Chile's allures. Kunze's first trip abroad was to tout the country at World Travel Market Latin America in Brazil in early April, followed by Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami last week.