By Gabriela Sommerfeld
Marcos: Gabriela, it is an honor to sit down with you today to talk about Ecuair, Ecuador’s newest airline, and how it will affect the community of expats who have decided to retire and invest in our beautiful country.
Gabriella’s experience speaks for itself. Her professional career has included leading seminars aimed at entrepreneurship, marketing, and competitiveness inside and outside the country. She was the first woman to chair an airline in America, and she has been a part of different trade union directories involving tourism, commerce, and aviation. She is also a part of additional corporate directories both inside and outside the country. She has participated as a member of the Yasuní ITT Negotiating Team and previously held the position as General Manager of Quito Tourism.
Ecuador is among the top countries in the world for North American retirees. There are many benefits that Ecuador has to offer including the climate, the quality of food, and the dollar, but above all the kindness of the Ecuadorian. Having the privilege of ranking in the top countries also brings with it many challenges, one of them being the connectivity of our country with the world. With your experience in the tourism and air transportation sector, how can Ecuador stand out and what challenges do we face as an up-and-coming leader in the region?
Gabi: There is no country that can be a highly developed tourist destination, if it does not have national and international connectivity. As you expressed well, connectivity comes through ports, airports, and roads, including highways. If we start talking about air connectivity, then we are tasked with the responsibility of bridging multiple public and private entities. This includes networking the Ministry of Tourism, the Municipal GADS, and private sector companies with airlines so that they are able to create direct, non-stop connections to the largest number of destinations and cities internationally.
In addition to this, we must ensure sufficient and stable tourist services, in order to secure a steady flow of tourists. This includes food and beverage services, hotels, tour guides, and agencies, in addition to natural and cultural heritage sites. The interconnectivity of these services will begin to generate a virtuous circle, in which each time there is more interaction between them, there will be more benefits for the entire chain. Then not only does it affect the tourism industry, but upwardly impacts other industries that come to be suppliers of the tourism industry.
And so, the economy in general benefits across the board. Our biggest challenge is to show the world that Ecuador is a more complete, biodiverse destination, compared to other destinations that today can be great attractions in the region. Additionally, on a global level, we must show that our region is ‘the’ place to visit compared to other regions of the world. So the task really is Ecuador vis-à-vis the region and the region vis-à-vis the world.
Marcos: Ecuador has much to offer as a naturally and culturally diverse country, including, and in addition, to our emblematic Galápagos Islands. Despite being named the second best country for road travel, according to a report by the World Economic Forum in 2019, domestic air connectivity would majorly shorten distances between cities in the mountains and on the coast. This is especially true for common routes such as Cuenca to Manta. From your perspective and experience, what should we expect for connecting major cities in the future and do you think that one day we will see air connectivity between Cuenca and Manta?
Gabi: Now that public policy has shown interest in developing air connectivity in the country, several passenger and combined cargo service airlines are beginning to be developed at a commercial level. What this means is that we are going to see airlines with different business models. There are destinations within Ecuador that will require large jet aircrafts with large passenger capacity and large cargo capacity. Airlines that cater to these cities can operate only a few routes to be profitable. On the other hand, there are cities that have smaller populations, their economy is smaller, and the airlines that serve them can maintain medium-capacity aircrafts with room for about 30-50 passengers. This, in turn, feeds the airlines with greater capacity, creating a network of transportation options for different cities in the country. Small cities, medium-sized cities, large cities, and large cities of the archipelago, will interconnect with each other to create a wide network of flights such as exists in Peru, Columbia and previously in Ecuador. Rebuilding internal connectivity is what is going to bring us greater efficiency in the entire productive sector and greater economic development in Ecuador in general.
Marcos: Equair has entered the airline market in the country thanks to its experienced
leadership. Among the most important services that differentiate them is that despite being a low cost airline, they allow travel with luggage and pets. What expansion plans do you have for the future?
Gabi: The first goal of Equair is focused on strengthening the primary air bridge in Ecuador, which is the Quito - Guayaquil route. In as little as a year and half we hope to see the number of seats available on this route double from what was available in 2019. We want to strengthen connectivity with our archipelago (Galápagos) and use the routes that have been assigned to us by the Civil Aviation Council, which initially will be Coca, Lago Agrio, and Manta. Once this domestic connectivity is strong, we will start thinking about other cities within Ecuador to connect with. We believe that good things are on the horizon for our airline and the work we complete today will allow it to become an important airline both domestically and internationally; hopefully one day carrying the flag of our country to other countries around the region, and the world.
Marcos: The Ecuadorian government is leaning on real estate tourism as a strategy to boost the country's economy and attract foreign investment to the country. From your experience in the real estate sector, what can you share with our readers regarding this strategy and what challenges as a country must we solve to be efficient in these two important sectors of tourism and real estate?
Gabi: There is no doubt that the construction sector is a major job-generating industry in Ecuador. Therefore, the benefit in terms of employment and wealth for the country is an important factor. In the past years Ecuador’s real estate industry has been extremely active which brings both challenges and innovation. This is seen particularly in Quito where there are architects who stand out nationally and internationally, and interior designers who are sought after on multiple continents. Thus, our responsibility is to be aware of what this industry looks like in other countries in our region and at least match, if not surpass, what they offer. Additionally, if the country, through commercial offices, begins to promote real estate projects it will provide the legal certainty that the investor needs, including giving sufficient tax incentives to invest. With this, when foreign investors consider investing Ecuador will be placed at the top of the list for the benefits it provides in terms of return on your investment, as well as legal certainty.
Marcos: What message do you want to leave with our readers about the future of Ecuador's national and international connectivity?
Gabi: The government has decided on and is committed to improving an aviation policy at both the national and international level. At the national level all facilities have been provided and at the international level, through bilateral commercial treaties, commitments have been made.
There is an open skies policy and through the achievement of trade agreements with different governments, this open skies policy will begin to work for the benefit of both countries. I am hopeful because the decisions by the government to strengthen the internal and external aviation sectors of Ecuador have become clear.