PAULINA BURBANO DE LARA

Ecuador 2020 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Ecuador must harness its environmental gems, create regional tourism, and expand its unique offerings to gain more for the tourism sector.

Paulina Burbano de Lara
BIOGRAPHY

Paulina Burbano de Lara is the CEO of Metropolitan Touring and its hotels, as well as head of the company's Peru and Colombia offices. She sits on the boards of many major companies, such as Banco Internacional, Equivida, and Tecniseguros. She was previously head of Grupo Futuro Holding and the rehabilitation project of Quito's historic downtown. She is the director of Fundación Galápagos and Fundación Futuro. A Fulbright Scholar, she has a degree in economics. She was also a fellow at MIT's special program for urban and regional studies. Her studies have focused on the financial, socio-economic, and environmental impact of investment projects, as well as the management of historic city centers.

How important is Galápagos as a destination for Metropolitan Touring?

Metropolitan Touring started as an outbound agency in 1953, but soon the company realized the potential of Ecuador and started its inbound operations. Galápagos already had scientific importance because of its unique flora, fauna, and history, but visiting it had enormous challenges. We have played a key role in the protection of this precious asset, having worked hand in hand with the environmental authority to create regulations that currently are the model for exploring the Galápagos National Park. These standards are needed in order to preserve the uniqueness of Galápagos for future generations, and to make sure visitors do not have a critical impact on the islands' ecosystems. Galápagos is the crown jewel of Ecuador's tourism sector. Both the public and private sectors have been working to create synergies between this destination and others. Foreign travelers cannot reach Galápagos without going to Quito or Guayaquil. It is important to focus on other parts of the country so that travelers can better discover Ecuador. With this mindset, Metropolitan Touring established Mashpi Lodge, a hotel built in some of the most biodiverse forests in Ecuador. This area has been declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Our aim is to replicate the same level of environmental protection as in Galápagos.

What areas in Ecuador have the potential to become tourist destinations?

For those willing to discover Ecuador, there is a need to connect all parts of the country. We must also assess the diversity of attractions and possible differentiators between our attractions and others, as we are competing with destinations such as Indonesia, the Maldives, Colombia, and Peru. There are some regions with great tourism potential such as the Manabí province in the Pacific coast. Recently, connectivity has improved, in part because of LATAM Airlines opening flights. Another region with great potential to develop in Ecuador is the entire highlands region. It is especially attractive because Ecuador has better access to the Andes mountain range as compared to other neighboring countries. For example, we can entice tourists by developing glamping sites, which have become a trend of late. Glamping is a less expensive and nicer option for modern travelers. Moreover, we can visit haciendas, large lands owned by families for centuries, and offer them to discerning travelers. These options will provide extra income for local communities, most of whom mainly depend on income from farming-related activities. Such options could be further developed to add more attractiveness to Ecuador's tourism offering.

What changes have you noticed in inbound tourism in Ecuador after the arrival of new airlines?

Metropolitan Touring's largest flow of visitors still comes from the US. In general, better air connectivity is helping to bring more explorers into the country. Something highly beneficial for the sector would be to have direct flights between Ecuador and Germany, which is our largest European market. Moreover, we are welcoming the evolution of our domestic market, where cheaper fares are gaining prominence. A low-cost airline operating within the country is the need of the hour. Additionally, there needs to be more effort to improve regional connectivity with neighboring countries. When travelers come to South America, they almost always visit more than just one country. We must ensure that travelers have affordable and flexible options to go from Ecuador to countries like Colombia and Bolivia. This will further boost visitor numbers and improve the regional tourism offering.

What investment opportunities does the tourism sector have in Ecuador?

Quito's historic center has great opportunities for development. Hoteliers are not the only ones who could take advantage of these opportunities, but mixed-use investments in that area of Quito could also yield great benefits. I see opportunity in related services for guests, from offering bicycles to cell phone chips and lockers. All such peripheral services are needed here, and there is room for specialized companies.