WITH OPEN ARMS

Ecuador 2012 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

Known for its biodiversity, Ecuador has long attracted the environmentally conscious and curious traveler. As it becomes a business hub, the country also seeks to boost its MICE tourism appeal.

Ecuador enjoys the perfect recipe for success in the tourism industry—affordable accommodation and low prices, natural heritage in the form of protected zones, and blossoming infrastructure such as new airports and transportation links. Launching a new campaign to promote Ecuador worldwide, the Ministry of Tourism has played an extensive role in raising occupancy rates and international visitor traffic. With the slogan “Ecuador loves life!," the country is hoping to continue the trend of growth in the industry and is preparing for a new wave of sustainable and business tourism.

The Ministry of Tourism has increased its budget 10 fold in the last seven years. As part of its agenda, the government aims to conclude agreements with airlines, large international businesses, and all who may be interested in investing in the sector.

Ecuador's largest inbound market is the US, followed by Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and Cuba, which comprise 50% of arrivals in total. However, the country aims to attract more visitors from Asia and Europe, promoting the country as a naturally beautiful and affordable vacation spot.

Ecuador has harnessed new markets and successfully invested in tourism to set itself apart from the competition—primarily Colombia and Peru—and grow by 15% in 1Q2012, compared to the worldwide average of 4.5%. This expansion of the sector has led to excellent competitive advantages for Ecuador as it seeks foreign investors.

Private projects in the sector are worth up to $600 million, such as an airport project in Manta, which is set to become the most important transcontinental infrastructure in the region and a gateway for Asian countries. A $300 million investment has been allocated toward the development of a spectacular journey by train—the Quito-Guayaquil route—that will be inaugurated by the end of 2012.

ONE NIGHT IN QUITO…

Named “American Capital of Culture" in 2011, Quito is a blend of many touristic worlds: nature, nightlife, and cuisine. Traditionally the transit point for visitors en route to the Galápagos, the city's tourism association is working diligently to highlight the many faces of the city and encourage transfer passengers to stay more than for a one-night layover. However, the city is also a touristic destination in its own right, with a rich culture to showcase.

The historical aspects of Quito are one attractive point for the curious traveler, and hotels in Quito have seen an increase in visitors exploring the city before heading to the Galápagos. “For visitors who come to Ecuador for the first time, Quito is the city for an obligated stopover for one or two days," Vladimir Carrera, General Manager of the Dann Carlton Quito, told TBY. “People enjoy the old district of the city, the ancient churches and colonial houses, the surrounding villages and many other interesting places before flying to the Galápagos."

In terms of sustainable initiatives, Quito has stepped up to the plate to promote the environmental aspects of its tourism offering. To demonstrate the city's commitment, Quito will host the WTO Congress on Ethical Tourism in September 2012 in addition to a meeting of the ministers of tourism organized by the Organization of American States (OAS).

The city received 500,000 visitors in 2011—almost half of the total 1.1 million that entered the country—with the majority coming from the US. With the opening of a new airport in 2012, Quito expects to see a distinct increase in the number and variety of visitors in the future. “We are optimistic about the airport, and we believe that it will spark growth in every sector." Carlos Mazzeo, General Director of Mercure Hotel Alameda Quito, explained to TBY. “If the price is right, guests will opt to stay one more night in Quito before returning home."

…AND GUAYAQUIL'S YOUR OYSTER

Quito is not the only city in Ecuador launching new tourism offerings. Guayaquil has stepped onto the stage with a selection of both corporate and leisure options, focusing on raising the quality of hospitality in the country and introducing traveler-friendly technology in major hotels.

Over the last few years, Guayaquil has seen a considerable increase in the number of Argentinian and Chinese tourists. To boost the skill level of the local workforce and match the needs of new tourism markets, Louis Hanna, President of the Chamber of Tourism of the Guayas Region, said to TBY that “Ecuador is not a traditional tourism destination… we need to catch up with other regional destinations not only in terms of infrastructure, but also training." Accordingly, the Chamber has launched a training center, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Meanwhile, hotels in the city have seen an increased number of corporate clientele as a cue to invest in better technology, both in rooms and convention halls. When business tourists arrive in the city, convention centers are ensuring that all the right measures are taken to accommodate their needs while running events in thecity. “From June on, we will be able to tell a customer how many people are in attendance, at what time they entered the trade show, at what time they left, and how many minutes they stopped at particular stands." Nicolás Romero, General Manager of Centro de Convenciones de Guayaquil, told TBY.


NEW MARKETS

Between the Andes, the Galápagos Islands, the Amazon rainforest, and the coast, Ecuador has the potential to attract tourists from a wide variety of categories. As Ecuador has only developed 15% of its tourism potential, there is plenty left to be discovered and many markets to explore. “Our country currently offers 12 touristic products such as cultural tourism, eco-tourism, sun and beach tourism, medical tourism, and even retirement tourism, which has grown considerably in the last few years," said Minister of Tourism, Freddy Ehlers. This success was reflected as the country was voted the best place to live in the world in a poll carried out by International Living Magazine, which considers factors such as security, healthcare accessibility, and weather.

One of the Ministry of Tourism's main goals in 2012 is to open Ecuador up to new markets across the globe. Although the country operates 12 flights directly to its main inbound tourist source, the US, there are fewer direct flights from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, and no direct flights from Brazil. The government has entered talks with various airlines to support better connections to the surrounding region and beyond. In addition, Asia has become a prime focus for Ecuador, culminating in the government's recent trip to China to formally present Ecuador and its tourism campaign in June 2012. “At the moment, we are building up a tourism brand that is attracting more interest throughout the world every day," Minister Ehlers told TBY.

SUSTAINABLE & ETHICAL

Perhaps the country's most significant advantage to increase investment in the tourism sector is through sustainable and ethical tourism, a niche market that Ecuador can take full advantage of with its lush coastline and important biodiversity.

Although the country abounds with opportunities to attract the environmentally aware traveler, not every enterprise can participate in sustainable initiatives. It takes more than a degree in hospitality to operate green hotels and energy-saving tours, and many hotel companies and tour groups have recognized the need for better training and education in response to the growing demand for this lifestyle choice.

Currently, “Ecuador has more than 150 certified [sustainable] operations in the area. Most are in the Galápagos, the Amazon region, near the coast, and in the Andes. It is one of our main tools," Raúl García, President of Captur told TBY. In line with the country's motto of loving life, García emphasized that “Ecuador is a small country with a big heart. We receive foreigners with open arms."