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Venezuela gets help from tourists

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The collapse of oil prices last year didn't help. Neither did a drastic currency devaluation. But Venezuela has managed to find some shelter from the storm through other domestic resources: sunny beaches and low prices. Tourism is becoming a bright spot for Venezuela. Margarita Island, one of Venezuela's most popular vacation spots, is translating its nation's call for increased foreign interest into urban development and business opportunities.

Two typical Margarita Island entrepreneurs are Juan Carlos Guisande, president of Publicidad Condord, a burgeoning multi-interest company, and his brother Eduardo. They are planning a ``food of all nations'' restaurant - a multicultural, fast-food service similar to those found in many cities in the United States.

The Guisandes emigrated from their native Uruguay to Venezuela looking for better business opportunities, and they have found them here in Margarita. In a few years, their businesses have grown from two discos to include an advertising firm and a construction company.

Throughout Venezuela, government subsidies, soft loans, and tax incentives for businesses and construction have encouraged investment. But since ``Margarita has more facilities, more attractions,'' as one tourist officer explains, its businesses have had impressive growth. Condominiums and shops, which investors hope will be further incentives for tourists, are on the rise.

Higher property costs in downtown Margarita also reflect the business boom. ``The developers are crazy buying buildings,'' says a Venezuelan Economic Department officer.

Margarita's beaches may be some of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, but the real draw for foreigners is the bargains. Cab rides run about 15 percent of New York City rates, and a five-star hotel room may cost as little as $40 a night.

Vacations in Venezuela are nothing new for Canadians, one tourist officer says. ``They have been coming here for a long time because it's cheap. But their only interest is going and getting good suntans and good bargains.'' Americans, however, also want to know how and where to invest, she says.

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