Santiago, Chile Travel Guide
Chile's capital city of Santiago has earned its business-friendly reputation.
Once merely a gateway for tourists bound to Patagonia or other hotspots in Chile, Santiago has emerged in recent years as a globally relevant, vibrant destination in its own right for both leisure and business travel. With its impressive and growing arts and music scene, burgeoning fine-dining options and ample selection of quality hotels, Santiago is drawing attention for reasons other than its well-deserved reputation over the past two decades as one of South America’s best places to conduct business.
Despite suffering through the sixth-largest earthquake in recorded world history in February 2010, the country bounced back fast, and signs of the damage are scarce. In May 2011, economic indicators under the politically center-right Sebastián Piñera government showed that the Chilean economy expanded by an incredible 9.8 percent over the previous year. Chilean pols have set a remarkable goal of making the nation the first country in Latin America to achieve developed-country status by 2020. Already, the country is far along the path toward that goal.
Chile rakes in platitudes from international economists. The country consistently ranks high in global competitiveness indexes due to its stable institutions and macroeconomic environment, advanced infrastructure and market efficiencies. The country’s businesses, too, have become expert exporters as the government aggressively opened up markets, forging more than 20 free-trade agreements with 57 countries—the most trade agreements of any country in the world. As such, Chileans also have developed a keen interest in innovations abroad and in establishing ties with foreign companies.
Incorporating culture into business strategy
But despite an eagerness to make connections with businesses from other countries, Rafael Ruano, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Santiago, says that it would be a strategic mistake to go to Chile and make cold calls to prospective Chilean counterparts upon your arrival. “The Chileans are formal in their business affairs. They don’t conduct business over lunch, for example,” says Ruano. “And they will likely frown upon meetings that are not set up in advance. I recommend you plan your appointments at least two weeks ahead.”
Ruano adds that a local law firm, consulting firm or the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce are good places to get help with making your initial contact. As well, in Chile, the real decisions are almost always made by top management, so always start at the top, though expect to be pushed down afterward. While business meetings are formal, it’s still a good idea to socialize outside the office with your Chilean colleagues to get to know them. Personal relationships are key in Chilean business culture. Whom one knows goes a long way—through third-party introductions, you can speed progress in getting meetings and making things happen.
Chileans are very image conscious and careful with their personal appearance; it’s recommended you dress neatly and in formal attire for meetings. Business cards are handed out at the start of the meeting, and before you get down to business, Chileans do prefer to engage in some level of small talk (a few good topics: football, food, wine, vacations, family or the weather). While punctuality at meetings is appreciated, they often do not start on time; it’s not uncommon for Chileans to arrive up to 15 minutes after the established meeting time. Once the small talk is out of the way, Chileans are indeed serious about the business at hand, but be prepared for surprises. “Even after 13 years of doing business in Chile, it still amazes me that in general the Chilean has a hard time saying, ‘No, we are just not interested.’ It is hard to measure where you are standing, really how much interest there is,” says Julie McPherson, an American living in Santiago since 1996 and presently commercial director and co-owner of the telecommunications company Tiaxa.
Chile’s economy is dominated by its exports of copper, wine, fruit and wood products, but the country also has ambitions to become a platform country for multinationals in other industries seeking a foothold in Latin America. Companies like Oracle, J. P. Morgan and WorleyParsons have set up hubs in Santiago. The country’s many free-trade pacts give access to low or zero tariffs in some markets that companies could not otherwise afford. The corporate tax rate is one of the world’s lowest. Moreover, the government, through programs such as InvestChile, provides a host of services and financial incentives to attract high-impact foreign investors in manufacturing or service industries.
When meetings end, experience a diverse city
Less than an hour from the city are world-class ski resorts, a great change of pace during the Northern Hemisphere summer (seasons are opposite in South America). Within a few hours’ drive you can relax along the Pacific coast or explore the country’s renowned wine valleys like Colchagua or Casablanca. “How many cities in the world can a businessman in less than an hour from his hotel on a Saturday go skiing, or even heli-skiing, at the world’s second-highest mountain range?” says Kristina Schreck, an American marketing consultant living in Santiago.
If you enjoy the riches of city life, Santiago has a lot to offer. The country’s strong economy is now matched by a cultural awakening opening in full bloom with the country two decades removed from the stifling Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship. There are several noteworthy museums, public and private, and exceptional contemporary art at galleries like Galeria Animal or the Isabel Aninat gallery in the Vitacura section of Santiago. Charming old tourist stops like the Lastarria district and its nearby Cerro Santa Lucia park are still a recommended part of any visit. But a new must-see is the striking Centro Cultural; opened in 2006, the cultural center features top art, photography and film exhibitions in a facility below the plaza in front of the La Moneda presidential palace.
Santiago is definitely no stepchild to any city in the region. It’s an international city with a sophisticated workforce and large expatriate community, and it’s open for business.
Airport and ground transportation
Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is served in the U.S. by American out of Dallas and Miami, and Delta via Atlanta. The country’s dominant carrier, LAN, flies to Santiago from Miami, Los Angeles and New York City. The airport is about a 30-minute drive from the city; for about $20 you can take a taxi to your hotel, or for $10, share a shuttle van. The city itself is crowded with taxis—expect to pay between $4 and $10 for most cab fares around town. Santiago also has an extensive Metro subway that connects to most of your likely destinations; it is jam-packed, however, when the city’s workers are commuting between their jobs and homes. Rental cars are not necessary to get around unless you plan on taking independent trips outside Santiago.
Where to stay
Isidora Goyenechea 3000, El Golf
+56 2 770 0000, starwoodhotels.com/whotels
With great restaurants, bars, shops and more in this large complex, W Santiago provides everything you need under one roof, perfect for the busy traveler with little time to explore the city.
Calle El Alcalde No. 15, Las Condes
+56 2 470 8500, ritzcarlton.com/santiago
Located near many of the most important corporate office buildings in the city, this is an elegant hotel with all the five-star luxuries a demanding executive traveler expects from a hotel on business trips.
Constitucion 299, Bellavista
+56 2 940 2800, theaubrey.com
A relatively new upscale boutique hotel in the heart of Santiago’s lively Bellavista neighborhood, Hotel Aubrey is an especially good choice if you want to combine business with pleasure.
Where to eat
Nueva Costanera 3969, Vitacura
+56 2 208 8908, puertofuy.cl
Offering Chilean dishes taken to a higher level—described by the chef-owner as Chilean food done in a “modern French” style—this has become a landmark restaurant for Chile.
Avenida Jose Manuel Infante 51, Providencia
+56 2 236 6771, infante51.cl
Situated on a side street between downtown Santiago and Providencia, this restaurant has a first-class ambience for meetings with prospective business partners. It offers a diverse array of seafood dishes, some a privilege to behold.
Luis Thayer Ojeda 019, Providencia
+56 2 231193, liguria.cl
This bar-restaurant, likely near many of your business appointments, offers quality food at reasonable prices, and it’s a great spot to unwind after dinner.
Jimmy Langman is based in Puerto Varas, Chile. He is a co-author of Fodor’s travel guidebooks on Chile and Patagonia.