In the year 2019, Ecuador received 1.3 million tourism arrivals, producing US$2.2 billion according to statistical information from the Ministry of Tourism in Ecuador. International tourism from North America accounts for 403,364 travelers from the United States and 38,196 from Canada.
Historically, Ecuador has experienced a significant growth rate in international tourism. This is due to the fine work being done by the private tourism industry in its relentless effort to entice the consumer market to visit the 4 worlds of Ecuador (the Coast, Andes, Amazon and Galápagos).
The efforts of the private sector during the last 21 years have been partially aided by the promotional actions of the Ministry of Tourism. In 2004, the Tourism Promotion Fund started to implement the first Ecuador Tourism Marketing Plan. Since then, the foreign consumer and travel industry markets have started to recognize Ecuador as a new travel hotspot, particularly in the real estate sector.
In order to fund its promotional plan back in 2004, Ecuador started out with a US$5.00 tax (called EcoDelta) on each airline ticket issued in the country for outbound travelers (mostly Ecuadorian). In 2014, the government modified this contribution to US$50.00 for outbound tickets from Ecuador and US$10.00 from any foreign country into Ecuador, called Potencia Turística. They also included a US$60.00 tax for airline tickets outbound on charter flights from Ecuador.
The collection of these funds in 2019 accumulated in the amount of US$62 million, although these funds were used primarily for other purposes ordered by the Ministry of Finance and not given to the Ministry of Tourism. In the last seven years, the private sector has been pleading for the return of the funds.Guillermo Lasso, Ecuador’s current president, has committed to returning the funds to the tourism industry, specifically to the tour operators and hotel sector.
From conversations that I have had with the actual Minister of Tourism, Niels Olsen, who is leading the work to create the new Ley Organica de Turismo (Tourism Law), the recovery of these funds are essential. According to Olson, the new proposal that will be sent to be approved by Ecuador's National Assembly will include a new Tourism Promotion Fund as one of the main articles. Once approved, this fund will help to increase tourism for the country and also catalyze the creation of a Marketing Plan. The plan will include new ideas to captivate new tourism industry investments and real estate tourism promotion.
I had worked as director for the first tourism promotion fund of Ecuador (Fondo Mixto de Promoción Turística) from 2004 until the end of 2007, and was able to lead the implementation of the first tourism marketing plan. This plan was designed by Josep Chias, who helped create the first tourism marketing plan for Spain. An interesting action that we implemented was Press Trips, in which we invested close to US$500,000 from 2005 to 2007 by inviting 114 press groups to Ecuador.The results of these press tours throughout our 4 ‘worlds’ saved the government and private sector more than US$160 million in media space. Pages upon pages in major newspapers, travel magazines, online articles, documentaries on TV, and cable led to creating a buzz about Ecuador in the major markets. This increased tourism arrivals from the US by 32% and from Canada by 41%.
Is it safe to travel throughout Ecuador during the Pandemic?
During the pandemic period of 2020, a great number of video conferences were held between all the tourism industries in Ecuador regarding the risk and security of travel. It was heavily predicted that tourism was going to be hit hard and it was not a surprise that at the end of 2020, sales had gone down by 75%. The recovery of the tourism industry was thought to depend on how fast the tourism industry presented the latest protocols for safer experiences at destinations. Building a bridge of trust was the main concern of this service sector, although later on we found out that this was not the key issue to bringing back the numbers needed for economic recovery.
Ecuadorians and foreign residents in this country were truly afraid of traveling. The World Tourism Organization posted campaigns that stated messages such as, “Stay Home, Travel Tomorrow.” This emphasized human well-being first and recovery of tourism second, which was strongly endorsed by the majority of Ecuadorian tour operator, hotel, and restaurant service sectors. The tourism industry knew it was in everyone's best interest that they wait for the right moment to present safe travel options to the international and domestic markets.
The key factor was vaccination, which permitted many to finally fulfill their desire to travel again. 74% of the Ecuadorian population had access to the government's vaccination plan, which meant almost 24 million doses were administered. With these numbers, every holiday, weekend, or vacation period made the tourism industry surge with a high number of tourists. For example, during the first week of November the Ministry of Tourism calculated over 1 million trips with spending of US$71 million across the entire country (93% Ecuadorians and 7% internationals).
According to the latest investigative survey done by the Universidad Central del Ecuador (UCE) and the Universidad Internacional del Ecuador (UIDE) in 2021, the 65 and older age group have kept on traveling despite being most at risk. If you are traveling through Ecuador, please make sure that you choose establishments which follow biosafety protocols while also playing your part as a safe traveler.
Author: Patricio Tamariz