Hugo Chavez´s increasingly provocative and offensive outbursts are surely damaging Venezuela´s tourism industry. Other than having an idiotic leader, Venezuela has various issues that it needs to address if it wants to seriously start attracting tourists.
Venezuela does has a lot of potential in terms of attracting visitors. There´s fantastic Caribbean beaches, beautiful islands great for diving such as Los Roques, Merida is a beautiful city with great adventure travel activities, the Llanos region is fantastic for wildlife viewing and birdwatching, there´s pristine rainforest to explore and there is also the highlight of Angel Falls. In fact, Venezuela has almost everything. Sadly, it also has various problems (some addressable, others not) that mean that it is towards the bottom of my list of the best countries to visit in Latin America. What are those problems?
1. Hugo Chavez: Chavez just loves being rude to everyone and anyone. Chavez thinks it´s intelligent to give money to the extremely poor, with no strings attached, such that they don´t need to work. He also thinks it clever to give money away to foreign countries, hoping to buy influence with them. I´d suggest he spends the money of investing in Venezuela, rather than giving it away.
2. Kidnapping rates: Kidnapping rates per capita (ie. per person) are now higher in Venezuela than in any other country in Latin America, including Colombia. More info on kidnapping rates here. Caracas is a decidely horrible and dangerous city to visit.
3. Service: Venezuela has the worst customer service in all of Latin America. Service in restaurants, hotels etc. is on the whole very poor (of course there are some exeptions). Airport staff are exceptionally rude, and immigration officials increasingly aggressive. Why, I don´t know, but it must be to do with the nations psyche. Service levels in Venezuela are the complete opposite to those of it´s neighbour Colombia, which has the best levels of service on the continent, in my opinion.
4. Cost: a vacation to Venezuela is often overpriced. Hotels, flights, everything is overpriced. There are such large distances that need to be covered between places that are of any interest to visit, you really need to catch a flight unless you want to spend forever travelling overland. Hotels in Los Roques, for example, are extortionate for what you get. One can find much higher levels in standard of tourism facilities in Peru, Brazil or Colombia for about 30% of the cost compared to Venezuela.
5. Angel Falls: the showpiece of Venezuela´s travel industry, Angel Falls is promoted as the must see thing to do in Venezuela. What many will not tell you, is that many are rather disappointed when they visit. During the dry season of December to April, the falls are little more than a trickle. They are only truely spectacular during the months between June and September (one third of the year). And a sizeable proportion of the time (approximately 40%), you won´t even see Angel Falls because the weather is so bad. My flyby of the falls got cancelled due to the weather…..
Chavez & Venezuela, you have lots of work to do if you want a serious tourism industry. Less mouth and more sustainable development might be a good starting point.