INTERVIEW WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM OF ECUADOR NIELS OLSEN FOR HI EXPAT MAGAZINE
Updated: Feb 5
Patricio: Hola Niels, you are a good friend, a grand professional in the travel sector and now honorable Minister of Tourism of Ecuador! In such a short time (May 2021) you have accomplished many things, but before we go ahead and let our readers know about them, please tell us about how you got into the travel industry.
Niels Olsen: I graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) where I studied Business Administration and Marketing and was part of the Society of Entrepreneurs of Latin America at Stanford University. During my school breaks I backpacked all over Europe and Africa, and it was through this that I started to discover my passion for traveling and cultural exchange.
I was 22 when I became the Marketing Manager for the company “Sweet and Coffee.” After three years with the company I decided to resign and move to Australia to obtain my Master’s Degree in Sustainable Tourism. I was able to study at Monash University, one of the most prestigious and top-ranking tourism schools in the World.
In Australia I worked for the Melbourne Sports Museum and on an investigation project for the Ministry of Tourism of Fiji. Upon my return to Ecuador in 2015, I undertook the Hacienda La Danesa project.
Patricio: Since studying Marketing and Sustainable Tourism in the U.S. and Australia, you have made a name for yourself by developing and promoting rural tourism with your product, Hacienda La Danesa. Tell me a little about this endeavor and how you see the future of rural tourism products in Ecuador for international markets.
Niels Olsen: In almost 6 years we have managed to position Hacienda La Danesa as one of the most important high-end properties in Ecuador, where it seeks to create authentic experiences for simplicity and luxury to meet.
In addition to being an operating farm or hacienda, “La Danesa” is a lodge with six rooms. We are projecting the addition of eight more rooms (total of 14) before 2025. Currently the restaurant, the library, social areas, and more gardens are being built as well.
Hacienda La Danesa is the #1 experience in Guayaquil by Trip Advisor and has been featured in international magazines such as National Geographic, Financial Times, and the Daily Telegraph. In addition, it has positioned itself in the American and English markets as a perfect extension to the continent for travelers visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Since the beginning of July, Hacienda La Danesa has been reactivated, reaching a production of almost 94% during the COVID pandemic. During the pandemic, the opportunity arose to create an online platform to market products from the Hacienda such as honey, chocolates, caramelized sweetened milk (dulce de leche) and different types of cheese. This area continues to grow.
The development of rural tourism products in Ecuador is in full swing. We have important offers in the country, and mainly in the Andes, where the products are aimed at serving both foreign and domestic tourists with the same quality and excellence. These products offer unbeatable experiences and high added value for tourists that have had significant changes in their primary purpose of traveling. These include seeking open spaces with surrounding nature that provide different and enriching experiences, with a high cultural and culinary component, which is what we have in Ecuador.
Patricio: I have heard that you have made great progress on the creation of the new Law of Tourism. What do you think are the most relevant parts of the law for the future of Ecuador as an international travel destination?
Niels Olsen: We are working on a modern, clear and efficient Tourism Law to improve the conditions of the tourism sector so that the industry can emerge stronger based on a clear legal framework without obstacles.
The new Tourism Law aims to be the most modern in Latin America. These are the aspects that we hope will transform Ecuador into a complete international travel destination:
Total openness to new investments in Ecuador in the national system of protected areas in a sustainable, responsible manner and with all environmental certifications. This will undoubtedly be a very big differentiating factor for international tourism.
Digitization and creation of smart companies and destinations so that contemporary tourists can move freely and with all the information in the country.
The creation of Promotur Ecuador as an organization for the promotion of Ecuadorian tourism, duly financed and structured.
The guarantee of total accessibility to the country in every sense, both in total air and land connectivity, as well as in physical access for people with disabilities.
A tourist protection policy based on the highest national standards and on Ecuador's adoption of the International Tourist Protection Code supported by the World Tourism Organization. Last December, Ecuador became the first country to incorporate it into its legislation.
Patricio: The COVID-19 Pandemic has hurt the travel industry around the world and in Ecuador, how do you think our tourism service sector should cope with this new Omicron variant?
Niels Olsen: Working in tourism during a pandemic is really tough work, since we take five steps forward and two steps backwards everytime a new “variant” appears. It is important to remember that for us, the most important thing is the people, and we will always agree to take all the necessary measures to protect the health and integrity of both the professionals of the service sector, as well as travelers and citizens in general.
I consider it essential that we continue to apply biosafety protocols, which in the case of Ecuador there are 22 specifically for tourism-related activities. In addition, maintaining biosecurity measures such as frequent hand washing, correct and constant use of the mask, social distancing, use of alcohol/hand sanitizer and gathering in outdoor spaces are the tools we have to continue to use to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and its variants.
Our readers are mostly from the United States and Canada. What would you tell them are your favorite places to visit in Ecuador? Do you have any favorite Ecuadorian cuisines?
Niels Olsen: For me it is very difficult to be able to tell you my favorite place to visit because every time I travel through Ecuador I fall in love with a new destination.
I love Cuenca, or Riobamba every time I visit them, but then I go to Montañita and I marvel at its beach and its waves for surfing. Whale watching season is another unique experience that you can also find in Puerto López which I love as well.
In Quito, I am lucky to enjoy an impressive view of the Historic Center from my office. I can tell you that I was recently in the Amazon and I was ecstatic to see nature and the diversity of the traditional cuisine. That happens to me throughout the country, because we have so many spectacular corners that choosing one is practically impossible.
Patricio: I thank you very much Señor Ministro for attending this interview. I am glad that our readers can get to know you and your passion for helping develop this sustainable and strategic sector for Ecuador's economy. Just one last question, how do you see Ecuador as an emerging new player on the global stage and what perception would you like international travelers to have for this beautiful country?
Niels Olsen: The perception we seek is that travelers first feel that they are in a safe destination, with a service sector staff fully vaccinated, and using biosafety measures. In the midst of a pandemic this is the new reality to which we have been able to adapt to. Also, we hope they see that we are a unique destination, with spectacular cuisine, incomparable tourism attractions, and friendly people, who make you feel welcomed with respect and affection. We need our visitors to feel that even though we are a small country in size, we are huge in experiences that await you with open arms.
Author: Patricio Tamariz