TODASANA, Venezuela — With its oil industry floundering, Venezuela is searching for a new engine of growth for an economy in free fall. The embattled socialist government thinks it has an answer — a future built not only on drilling and roughnecks, but beach umbrellas and piña coladas.
“Tourism is the oil that never runs out,” Marleny Contreras, the nation’s tourism minister, recently proclaimed.
Yet for a country saddled with the world’s highest inflation rate and rampant violence, becoming a tourist paradise may be as improbable as a new Disney theme park in Damascus.
Amid severe scarcities of basic goods, some hotels here have begun rationing toilet paper. Crisis-battered Venezuelans on local escapes, meanwhile, have graduated from stealing towels to pocketing lightbulbs and even coffee makers. Some resorts force their guests to sign contract-like inventory lists and submit to detailed room inspections at check out.
To keep up with an annual inflation rate of 3,000 percent, restaurants and hotels are jacking up prices almost daily. Depending on how they play Venezuela’s rough-and-tumble exchange-rate market, foreign visitors could end up paying next to nothing — or nearly $500 — for the same bottle of Venezuelan rum.