What is Ecuador's performance in terms of its tourism sector's competitiveness?
Ecuador's score on the 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum is 3.9, a result that it has maintained since 2016. There is currently a different method of measurement, and lately more countries have been added to the assessment, which is why we have fallen in the ranking from 56th place to 70th. However, the scoring remains the same and is aligned with the average of Latin America countries. Ecuador's main advantages on this ranking are its international openness in terms of visa facilitation and bilateral air service agreements, as well as its price competitiveness and environmental sustainability.
Which international markets are you focusing your efforts on to boost tourist arrivals?
Our strategy sets out a list of priority markets, which are the US and the main European markets namely the UK, Germany, France, and Spain. The Spanish market registered an important increase in terms of arrivals. In 2018, we exceeded 100,000 Spanish tourists, a 75% increase from 2017. This was due to the efforts by Ecuador to improve connectivity, which was welcomed by Spanish airlines. We have now three Spanish airlines with direct flights to Quito and Guayaquil: Iberia, Plus Ultra, and Air Europa. In general, connectivity is one of the main drivers for tourism, which is why we are focused on improving it. In May 2019, the first Air France flight to Ecuador resumed after 25 years. Now, Air France operates three flights per week. The Brazilian Gol Airlines also started operations recently, while LATAM Airlines now connects Santiago de Chile and Quito, further improving our regional connectivity. Longer flights are now being developed or expanded in terms of frequencies by airlines such as Interjet, American Airlines, and Air Canada, operating flights from Mexico, Dallas, and Toronto, respectively. We hope that direct flights will soon be established with other main markets in Europe, such as the UK and Germany.
What is the potential of offering a tourism experience jointly with Colombia or Peru, especially for long-distance tourists?
Long-haul flights are needed to penetrate the huge Asian market; however, we also need to provide more comprehensive regional packages. These tourists don't come only to visit one country in Latin America. That is why we are working alongside Peru and Colombia to provide a comprehensive offering and create initiatives that would include a visit to Peru's Machu Picchu, Ecuador's Galápagos, and Colombia's Bogotá or Cartagena in a single package, for example.
What are the main priorities for Ecuador's tourism strategy in the short term?
Our main priority now is connectivity, though the second goal is to ensure that tourists stay in Ecuador longer. Right now, tourists in Ecuador saty an average of 1.5 nights per city. We want to increase those figures, and to achieve that, it is important to work more closely with tour operators and improve our tourism offer. Then the next step is to ensure tourists spend more while visiting Ecuador to increase tourism revenue, which is related to the range of activities and additional offerings. This is something that our ministry is working on. The goal is for tourism to become Ecuador's second-most important magnet of foreign currency after non-renewable resources. We need to significantly increase the figure of 1.5 million tourists per year to achieve this goal.
The tourism sector needs investments to become more competitive and attractive. What steps are being taken in this regard?
A new legislation for tourism is being worked out to ensure this activity becomes stable and advances its status as a state policy. Ecuador currently offers many investment opportunities to foreign investors, and one of the sectors where incentives can be used for a longer period of time is tourism. For example, in the Andes, we have 'Pueblos Mágicos,' a strategy to promote tourism in small towns. These towns are opening their doors to tourism investments to create infrastructure and quality offerings for international visitors. Additionally, Ecuador is promoting itself as a premium and sustainable destination. Ecuador's four worlds—the Galápagos Islands, the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon—are the perfect destinations for foreign investment in all tourism fields, mainly in sustainable and socially responsible projects. Under the program Invest Ecuador Tourism, we have created a whole range of investment opportunities for international investors. Soon after the launch, we agreed on four contracts totaling USD133.4 million in investments.