MONTEVIDEO, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Uruguay is having a banner summer tourism season, thanks largely to the increasing number of visitors from neighboring Argentina and Brazil, according to Tourism Minister Liliam Kechichian.
"We are looking at a summer season that is even better than last year's, which was extraordinarily good," Kechichian told Xinhua.
Hotels and beaches in Punta del Este, the top seaside resort in Uruguay, if not all of South America, are teeming with national and international visitors as summer takes hold in the Southern Hemisphere.
The rise in tourism numbers is spurring a building boom in Punta del Este. One of the most anticipated projects underway is the 150 million U.S. dollar Trump Tower, which is being overseen by U.S. President Donald Trump's son Eric, who recently visited the site.
For those who prefer a less developed, more rugged vacation destination, Uruguay offers Cabo Polonio, in the eastern department of Rocha. This remote oceanside hamlet is only accessible on foot or all-terrain vehicles.
Cultural attractions include Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, and Montevideo, Latin America's southernmost capital city.
"We had an extraordinarily good ending to 2017, with a little more than 4 million visitors," said Kechichian, who has served as tourism minister since 2012.
The figure marks "a very significant increase, and the highest record number of visitors and inflow of foreign revenue, nearly 2.3 billion U.S. dollars," added Kechichian.
Visitors from Argentina, Uruguay's main tourism market, increased due to a combination of factors, including a favorable exchange rate, price freezes and a tax-back policy, she said.
2017 saw some 2.5 million Argentinians arrive in Uruguay, "the highest number ever in the history Uruguayan tourism," said Kechichian.
"Uruguay has historically been an agricultural exporter and hopefully it will continue to be, because we have very good quality food production," but "tourism has become a top-level economic activity," said the minister.
Today, tourism accounts for some 7.5 percent of Uruguay's GDP and 8 percent of employment opportunities, generating 113,000 direct and indirect jobs.
In recent years, Uruguay "has become much better known than it was in the past 30 or 40 years," thanks to innovative policies, quality beef, renewable energies and football, said Kechichian, and the tourism sector is benefiting from the added exposure.