Tourism, having grown by 20 percent over the past decade, is the backbone of the economy. While the numbers may not seem impressive by global standards, more than 24,000 tourists saw the island in 2004—nearly seven times the local population. Europeans, mostly French, German, British and Italian, account for about half the visitors; the French figures may be misleading, since many of them are Tahitian residents on long weekends. U.S. citizens compose about 10 percent of the total, and mainland Chileans about 20 percent.
Tourism is making some people wealthy—the symbols of affluence, such as automobiles, color TVs, and computers are becoming abundant. Many who do not rely directly on the tourist trade—by providing accommodations, serving meals, and renting cars, for instance—still depend on it indirectly; gardeners, for instance, grow fruit and vegetables, ranchers raise sheep and cattle, and fisherfolk net fish and trap lobster.
Still, many services depend on government subsidies, and the island has a substantial bureaucracy. Ironically, many locals depend on central government for their employment.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition