NOT SO LONESOME GEORGE

Ecuador 2013 | TOURISM | REVIEW

Ecuador is beginning to put itself on the map for more than just the Galápagos Islands as people head for its beaches, mountains, rainforests, and business centers.

The tourism industry is Ecuador's third largest economic sector, after the petroleum and agriculture industries. In the world of tourism, Ecuador has quite a unique offering with the Pacific coast, the Andes, the Amazon, and the Galápagos Islands. Tourism as an industry is still relatively new in Ecuador, and received almost no help from the government up until as late as the 1980s. Thus far, Ecuador had largely focused on its “jewel in the crown," the Galápagos Islands. President Rafael Correa and his predecessors knew that Ecuador had more to offer than this, and aimed to promote Ecuador internationally as a package of tourism activities, rather than just on a single point. In July 2013, the Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism & Culture launched a new tourism campaign in the US to attract fresh visitors to the country. The Ministry moved away from its traditional style of advertising based on landscape pictures and decided to rely on the written word instead. It went with the “I Discovered" campaign, which focused not only on the Galápagos Islands, but also its extraordinary biodiversity, coasts, the Andes, MICE tourism, and a unique 400-kilometer train ride from the mountains down to the Pacific coast. Such campaigns are having a positive effect on tourism numbers, which have been rising steadily. Between 2009 and 2012 there was a 30% increase from 968,499 to 1.27 million annually. Each month in 1H2013 also showed an increase on the respective month of the year before, except for April, which indicated a slight fall. Overall, the first half of 2013 signified a 5.01% increase compared to the same period of the year before.

The vast majority of these tourists, at 66%, are destined for Quito, making it the most popular destination in the country. According to the Ministry of Tourism & Culture, a foreign tourist will spend on average $1,000 over 14 nights, while a domestic tourist will spend $93 over an average of three nights. The average age of a visitor is between 18 and 34, with 52% of visitors falling into this bracket. The main reason people are visiting Ecuador is for its culture, with 73% expressing this as the purpose of their trip, while 21% opt for ecotourism. Medical tourism only plays a small part in the overall figures, coming in at 2.7%, or around 34,000 people annually. People visiting Ecuador tend to stay for quite a long time, with 29.5% staying for one month and 24.1% for between two and four months.

In regard to domestic tourists, the figures are quite different. The main reason people travel is either to go to the beach or experience the sun (51%) followed by 26% keen to experience the country's culture. Due to a largely low-income population, 51.12% of people opt to travel by bus, 39.59% in their own vehicle, and only 1% via air.

To help deal with this increasing number of visitors and tourists; the number of hotels and rooms has been increasing to deal with demand. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of hotels rose by 22.5% from 3,213 to 3,935, while the number of hotel rooms rose from 68,805 to 78,807 representing a 14% rise. Direct employment in the sector has also seen a shape rise over the same time period from 75,198 people to 101,329 workers, representing a 34.75% increase. The split between male and female is quite even with 54,302 men working in the industry and 47,027 women.

GALÁPAGOS-BOUND

Probably one of the most famous assets of the Ecuadorean tourist industry is the Galápagos Islands. Situated roughly 1,200 kilometers away from Quito in the Pacific Ocean, the Islands attract 16.6% of all foreign visitors to Ecuador. Annually, around 180,000 visitors head to the islands, mostly comprised of foreigners representing around 70% of the visitors and national tourists making up the rest. After the Ecuadorean national, US citizens make up the next nationality that visit the islands the most, comprising 26%, after which come UK citizens at 5.2%. The Galápagos is made up of numerous islands, with Isabella being the largest. Of all the visitors heading there, 30% arrive on a cruise that is based on the entire archipelago. The average stay of a tourist on the Islands is around 5.5 days, which also includes stopping on Isabella. The tourism industry surrounding the Galápagos generates huge revenue for the economy, with international tourists alone spending $606 million annually. The draw of the Galápagos is all down to its biodiversity and isolation from human inhabitants until relatively recently. In the 1960s, the islands had around 1,000 inhabitants in total, mainly on Isabella. Today, that population stands at 25,000. The reason for this boom has been the increasing tourism numbers since the 1980s and the higher wages on offer when compared to the mainland. Tourism numbers are already 10 times higher than predicted in the 1980s. Indeed, had the explosive growth of the mid-2000s—16% annually—continued past 2010, tourist numbers on the islands today would have exceeded 300,000. Due to the archipelago's fragile ecological balance, there are calls to limit tourism numbers and cruise ships heading to the islands, as well as a call for a population cap to protect to its very limited resources. There are also concerns regarding the increasing amount of feral cats, dogs, and goats brought over by the local populations. A disease from these animals entering the bio-system could cost millions of dollars annually to control. Environmentalists are demanding a quarantine zone on the islands to try to limit any ecological impact and diseases brought over by animals from the mainland.

RECOGNITION

Internationally, Ecuador is becoming more recognized as a tourist destination. In July 2013, the Galápagos Islands were honored inNew York at the Travel + Leisure: World's Best Awards, as the Top Ranking Islands in the Mexico, Central and South America category for the fourth straight year. What's more, Quito was named as South America's Leading Destination for 2013 at the same ceremony. In addition to these two awards, at the International Living awards ceremony, Ecuador won the title of Best International Retirement Destination for North Americans for the fifth consecutive year. These awards are a testament to the achievements and progress the tourist sector has achieved over the past few decades. Also in July 2013, Ecuador competed in 11 categories at the World Travel Awards (WTA) coming away with four: South America's Leading Culinary Destination, Leading Beach Destination on Bartolome Island in the Galápagos, South America's Leading Tourist Board, and South America's Leading Destination for Quito and the Galápagos Islands.

MICE TIMES

While Ecuador offers an extensive amount of activities for recreational, cultural, and ecological travelers, it is also increasing its offering for the business traveler. Over the next five years, MICE is expected to grow by 5% in the city of Quito. Between 2002 and 2011, Latin America experienced a 238% increase in meetings volume, while Quito reported a 188% increase. This was the highest growth reported by any Latin American city, narrowly followed by Buenos Aires and Saõ Paulo, with 185% and 161% growth, respectively. Over 2012, the Ministry of Tourism & Culture reported that at least 25% of all visitors to Quito were there to attend a MICE, and of the 130,000 visitors, each would spend an average of $607 on housing, food, transport, and conference registration per visit. Business people would spend an average of three days in the city. To help accommodate the increasing demand for space and amenities that international conferences and meetings bring, Quito is inviting national and international investors to participate in the bidding process for what will be Ecuador's leading business and events center. The Metropolitan Convention Center will be built over 11.4 hectares at an estimated cost of $35 million. The convention center will have a capacity of 3,000 delegates and the ability to host 6,000 guests. Meanwhile, the events arena will be able to hold 9,000 spectators with a further 30,000 in an outdoor event area.