Interview with Horacio Reppucci, TSTT Steering Committee
Horacio Reppucci is one of the leaders of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Argentine Chamber of Tourism (CAT) and its delegate to the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization), occupying the 1st Vice-Presidency of the Board of Directors of the Affiliate Members representing the Americas.
He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Argentine Federation of Associations of Travel and Tourism Companies, member of the Board of Directors of the Argentine Institute of Tourism Quality Foundation - ICTA, member of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Tourism of the Province of Buenos Aires, and a large number of leading international positions.
With years of experience in the Argentinean tourism industry, he considers himself to be in a state of constant learning, which leads him to have an open character that is balanced with a vast knowledge of the national and international tourism industry.
Dear Mr. Reppucci, in your opinion, what are the main lines of Argentina's tourism policy?
In Argentina, for many years, we have had the great possibility of working the public and private sectors of tourism in an excellent relationship of synergy, this has allowed us to have policies that stimulated the growth of the sector on a permanent basis. Since 2005, when the National Tourism Law came into force, the Argentine Chamber of Tourism has been recognised as a strategic ally for the development of our sector at national and international level.
Having managed to place the tourism sector as one of the main generators of income for the economy, speaks of political guidelines that favour and will continue to favour its growth.
As an expert on Latin American tourism, what role do you think destinations have played in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on tourism?
The pandemic has definitely been the worst crisis that our sector as a whole has had to face. All of us who in one way or another are part of tourism have had to participate and activate containment networks, so that the damage would not be much worse than it was.
In this, the whole region, in a joint effort by governments and their sectoral entities, had to generate collaborative actions to sustain businesses.
The realities of health policies were different in each country, some had total closures and others partial restrictions, but undoubtedly without government assistance, it would have been impossible for most companies to survive.
As an Argentinean who has lived through all kinds of situations, what is the current situation of the Argentinean tourism industry?
I have been working in the sector for 42 years, and throughout this time we have undoubtedly had to adapt to and adapt to very complex situations, but we have also gone through very good periods. The important thing is to have the ability to find a balance and know that these periods are cyclical and that we have to get through them in the best way possible.
Today, Argentina has largely recovered the level of pre-pandemic activity in domestic tourism and in some destinations there are already growth rates.
On the side of inbound tourism, it is being a little slower to recover the levels of tourist arrivals from abroad, which is why we are carrying out a lot of promotional activities from Inprotur, but the lower connectivity that we have compared to 2019 at regional level, is affecting and influencing this issue, which is why the markets of neighbouring countries are the ones that have evolved the most in the arrival rates.
What does a country like Argentina offer the international tourist?
Everything an international tourist can look for is available in Argentina. Perhaps my statement seems loaded with a lot of subjectivity, but it is very real. Our country has a variety of landscapes and climates that make it attractive all year round. Our culture, the nature, the people, the food and wine, the music, the spaces available for events? I could go on for a long time answering this question and I would probably not be able to fully describe the great attractions that make us an eligible destination of excellence.
How do you foresee the evolution of the tourism industry in your country?
I am very optimistic, I believe that we are living a moment of juncture due to the situation experienced during the pandemic, but that this crisis has also left us many lessons and opportunities, I understand that it is a very good time to invest in the sector and that the fruits will be seen very soon.
What do you consider to be the keys to the tourism offer in your country?
The important thing is to be able to give those who choose us what they are looking for, and we are working hard with the authorities in the sector to prepare service providers with training in quality concepts. Tourists who return to their country of origin satisfied with what they have experienced in the destination are our best advertisement so that others will want to come.
What do tourist destinations have to offer in order to be different from other surrounding or main destinations?
One of the great challenges that the sector is going through is the change in the conception of tourism in recent years, we know that there is a clear and visible transformation of habits, the tourist stopped being contemplative to become part and protagonist of a travel experience, so we believe that one of the keys that must be developed without doubt, is the generation of "satisfactory experiences of the traveller" at the destination.
We see this great change reflected in social networks, travel photos have changed, they are no longer only good landscapes, now what is most sought after are the good moments of enjoyment throughout the day. The experiences that can be lived in each destination are the great differential to make it eligible.
This is the concept that I believe is where the most work needs to be done, knowing what each passenger profile is looking for and getting the message across that these experiences will be "memorable, unique and exclusive" in the place we are promoting.
If the objective of making tourists feel that they have chosen the right destination for what they are looking for is achieved, they will surely want to visit the place again.
Taking into consideration your great knowledge of the countries of the Americas in general, and Latin America in particular, do you consider that the tourism policies that are being developed are aligned or does each country have a different line?
Undoubtedly the most important thing is that most of the countries of the Americas have seen and understood that tourism is a great opportunity for the development of their peoples.
The activity is an important generator of jobs and income for national and regional economies. There are towns that would not be viable today without tourism.
Each country has matured this concept at different times and that is also why growth has been different in some countries. But there is something that everyone must understand, that in order to have tourism there must be good connectivity, and that the infrastructure that each destination has available will be vital for the development of the activity. That is why it is very important that governments work in an integrated way in the different areas of management, assessing needs. Transport, airports, communications, roads, public services, environmental preservation, security, ... are all vital issues today for the development of tourism.
At present, what do you think are the key points in the relationship between public institutions and the tourism industry?
Today, I understand that after the pandemic, everyone has realised that unity is strength and that both sectors need each other for their reality to be good, complementing each other is undoubtedly the best way forward. This is what we have experienced in Argentina; the synergy of both sectors in tourism works very well.
Do you consider that the pandemic has introduced relevant changes in the behaviour of tourists and travellers, or has everything remained relatively the same?
Yes, there have been changes, but not major ones. What tourists are looking for most in their trips is to enjoy themselves and have a good time, and everything that can alter these premises conspires to make the destination eligible. That is why all the health requirements for entry in the different countries have changed the strategy at the time of planning holidays.
Uncertainty generates fear, and fear means that decisions are either not taken or are postponed.
It was very common to hear in my company that the big concern for passengers was not knowing what to do if a PCR was positive, and this in many cases altered the decision to travel.
Fortunately these issues have become much simpler and clearer, but there is still a certain sensitivity among some tourists about not wanting to be in crowded enclosed spaces.
What do you see as the main trends in international tourism?
The great challenge is to recover what has been lost and return to growth. The trends and measurements indicate that we are on that path, to achieve the arrival records we had in 2019 to put the market back in balance and then go for sustained growth rates over time.
On the other hand, I feel that there is a greater awareness of responsibility for preserving natural resources and the sustainability of destinations, and it is very important that we can work on this together, because growth must be accompanied by very serious and concrete policies for the care of the environment, measuring the impact that different activities generate on the environment.
How do you understand the phrase "digitalisation of the tourism industry"?
Society is moving towards digitalisation on a daily basis, our daily lives are also moving in this direction, and tourism is no exception to this reality. Not seeing it this way is like trying to block out the sun with one hand.
These are processes that all companies and destinations will gradually have to take on and implement. The customer is king and today a large part of his or her life depends on the use of technology. Commercial processes, marketing, access to information, to cite just a few examples, are driving the change that we will all have to take on board.
Do you think that the international tourism industry is making efforts to provide creative solutions in tourism promotion?
We are talking about recovering markets and levels of arrivals... gradually we have been returning to traditional promotion systems such as large trade fairs, but today networks also play a major role in promotional activities.
The right balance between traditional and more innovative systems is what I think is most advisable at the moment.
We must continue to participate in trade fairs and face-to-face training and business meetings, but we must also venture into digital media in order to be present in the technological devices of potential customers.
In your opinion, what do you think are the axes of a tourism policy after the impact of the pandemic?
Repositioning the destinations and recovering the resources and human capital that was lost during that sad period.
Many companies were badly affected economically and in terms of their operating structure, and we must continue to support them in their normalisation.
A large part of the sector's human resources migrated by force majeure to another activity and today, when they are needed, it is difficult to replace them, so focusing on the training and education of new applicants is a necessity for the private sector, but also an opportunity for governments to generate employment.
Why do you think the TSTT can be relevant for tourist destinations?
Because from now on we will have a group of experts, specialists in the different disciplines that are vital for the development of tourism activity, working together and organised to provide solutions to the problems and challenges that arise on a permanent basis.
In a dynamic society exposed to permanent changes, it is necessary to have a team that leads and facilitates the adjustments that must be made so that the adaptation times are logical and the impacts of the adjustment are minimised.
In your opinion, how can a tourist destination benefit from the contributions of the Tourism and Society Think Tank (TSTT)?
Our trajectory and experience in the sector and the international distribution of its members by working in different countries give us a very complete vision of what is happening in the sector and the possible solutions that exist to resolve certain issues, today I believe we have a great opportunity to collaborate with destinations and make important contributions to decision-making.
Let's talk about the citizens who live in tourist destinations, what role do they have in the tourism development of destinations?
First of all, I think it is crucial to make the inhabitants of each destination aware of how important tourism activity is for the social, economic and cultural development of the people. This must be worked on, we must not wait for this process to occur spontaneously, it must be worked on and programmed.
If we manage to get the members of a community to assume the benefits that tourism generates for them and act accordingly, they will become a legion of good hosts and this will give a degree of quality in the provision of service and warmth in the treatment of tourists that will be an important differential for the destination.