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Venezuela seeks to leverage its tourism industry’s potential

By Javier Garcia.

Barinas, Venezuela, Dec 8 (EFE).- Venezuela is seeking to improve its image and promote its great natural attractions to make tourism a major source of revenue, second only to oil, Tourism Minister Andres Izarra said.

The goal is to increase tourism’s current 4 percent contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) to 9 percent by 2019, Izarra said during the 2014 Venezuelan International Tourism Fair, or Fitven, last week in Barinas, a city in the Los Llanos region.

Political issues and public safety concerns aside, Venezuela has not been able to promote an appealing image for international tourism like Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Cuba have done.

Izarra blamed the situation on “an atrocious media campaign, a war driven by many transnational networks whose interest is to harm the Bolivarian Revolution.”

“Venezuela does not have more crime problems than Colombia or Mexico do,” the tourism minister told Efe. “Here you do not have 43 students disappear and be murdered. Ours is a peaceful country.”

Mexico welcomed almost 23.5 million tourists in 2012, while only 710,000 foreigners visited Venezuela, a number even below the 904,000 visitors who flocked to the small Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, World Bank figures show.

Located in northern South America, Venezuela’s geography runs the gamut from tropical beaches and coral reefs to vast plains, from the wide Orinoco River delta in the east to the snow-covered Andes mountains in the west.

Among the factors hampering the development of Venezuela’s tourism industry are the current troubles in air transport resulting from the government’s debt to several international airlines.

This situation has caused a drastic reduction in flights and a steep increase in fares.

The public safety problems in Venezuela “are much less serious than in other places that profit better from the tourism trade,” Jose Yapur, president of the tourism association in Nueva Sparta state, said.

Nueva Sparta is home to Margarita Island, Venezuela’s main tourist destination.

The national strategic plan for the tourism industry calls for adding 60,000 hotel beds by 2019, enhancing the quality of tourism services and tripling the number of foreign visitors to 2 million a year.