Niels Olsen, Minister of Tourism of Ecuador
Visit Latin America: Can you explain the main lines and objectives of the Ecuador Tourism Promotion Plan that you launched in 2022?
One of the main requirements of the tourism sector after the pandemic was to strengthen the promotion of Ecuador as a destination in order to recover and reactivate the activity. In February of this year, we presented the promotion plan which, thanks to the support and conviction of the national government, has a budget allocated for investment for the period from 2022 to 2025 of $47.5 million, spread over the four years, of which more than $41 million will be used for promoting the country, while the rest will be used to invest in innovation and new products.
We have decided to devote 70% of this budget to promoting the country abroad, focusing on markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, with the aim of attracting more foreign currency and injecting it into the Ecuadorian economy. The investment in international promotion is segmented in such a way that we can achieve high environmental, economic and social return tourism.
To reach our target markets, we participate in a series of international events such as: Adventure Elevate, Virtuoso, Signature, Remote, USTOA, LATA Expo, IFTM Top Resa and WTM, among others.
The remaining 30% of the budget is targeted at the domestic market, in order to achieve circulation and redistribution of resources by focusing on rurality, encouraging domestic travel to new destinations, in addition to traditional destinations. Domestic tourism has focused on certain seasons and holidays. The latter has enabled us to achieve a significant result in terms of cumulative tourism expenditure during the domestic holiday periods, which to date amounts to over $389 million, a higher amount than the same period in 2018 (316 million) and 2019 (303 million), making it the highest figure recorded in the last 5 years.
VLA: You have highlighted the need to create a new country and tourism brand, what is the current status of the project and what is your ambition in this regard?
The Ministry of Tourism is in the process of making all the necessary administrative arrangements for the creation of a new country brand, with the commitment of the Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investment and Fisheries and the General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency of the Republic.
The government is working in a professional and responsible manner throughout the process of building this brand, considering a process that involves research, strategy development and the design of the graphic identity. The aim is to generate a country brand that lasts over time, is non-politicised, represents national imports and allows us to attract visitors. We hope to have the new country brand ready by 2023.
VLA: How does your experience in the private sector help you today as a minister?
Nine years ago I started my tourism business with a lot of enthusiasm but also with a lot of fear, and along the way I have had many experiences that allow me to put myself in the shoes of my colleagues in the sector. I think that if there is one thing I can be proud of, it is that during these 18 months of work we have shown empathy and worked in a coordinated way with both the trade union leaders and the representatives of the sector, visiting the territory and, above all, listening. As a result, in the first few months of our administration, we have put in place financial relief measures.
Today, we offer three types of credits for the sector, we have returned to the most important tourism fairs for our destination in priority markets and we have implemented training programmes to strengthen the quality of tourism services in the country. Every time I visit a new company and hold meetings in the territory, I facilitate direct contact or contact with my team and we create a group, so that I can maintain a direct line of communication with them, so that I can feel their needs and solve them, and so that they can trust that I will do so.
VLA: Ecuador has been awarded for the eighth time in its history as the world’s top green destination in 2021, what are the keys to this success and how has Ecuador managed to link tourism development and environmental protection?
One of Ecuador’s main sources of economic income is undoubtedly tourism; our territory has a large amount of natural and cultural resources, which has made it essential to have a policy of protecting the areas where animal and plant species thrive; thus, 71 protected areas (PAs) have been declared in the national territory. These areas represent about 14% of the mainland and 97% of the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos Islands are a world reference, a natural laboratory of evolution, declared by UNESCO as World Heritage of Humanity, and for this reason in 2022 the “Fraternity Marine Reserve” was created, which is established as a tourist corridor between the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island in Costa Rica, as a passageway for dozens of protected species, linking Ecuador (Galapagos), Colombia (Malpelo), Panama (Coiba) and Costa Rica (El Coco); In addition, the Galapagos Marine Reserve has been extended to 193,000 km2 , making Ecuador the first country in Latin America and the fourth in the world to adopt the ecological transition as a cross-cutting public policy. The reserve will also help limit indiscriminate fishing in this tropical Pacific area, which is home to 95% of unique species.
The key to success is undoubtedly national policy, as the Constitution of the Republic establishes the national system of protected areas to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of ecological functions. Added to this is the vision of this state portfolio to make Ecuador the pioneering tourist destination in Latin America in this new era of tourism.
In this context, we have implemented our Institutional Plan 2021 – 2025 whose objective is: “To increase and diversify the portfolio of sustainable products and destinations”¸ whose strategy is ecotourism. This plan aims to generate a portfolio of nature-related products that improve the quality of the visitor experience within the 35 tourism-oriented protected areas (PAs), increasing the level of protection, conserving ecosystems, reducing deforestation, improving infrastructure for visitor use, involving the surrounding populations in the provision of the service and generating economic income. Within this framework, coordination has been carried out with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE), in order to make visible and market the productive initiatives of the tourism value chain, associated with each territory, initiatives that contribute to avoiding tourist pressure on fragile ecosystems; furthermore, the photo tourism strategy is being promoted with the collaboration of the Ecuadorian Photographers Association (AFE) for the identification of specialised sites for the practice of responsible photo tourism in protected areas.
Finally, we have proposed guidelines for sustainable destinations and beaches, which will strengthen the management of local strategies for the implementation of actions for the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, with the involvement of the actors of the territory, achieving a sustainable and environmentally friendly economic and social development.
VLA: What message would you like to send to tourism professionals?
I would like to ask my colleagues to remember that we are part of the most incredible and resilient industry. Globally, tourism generates 6 billion dollars of GDP, while in Ecuador it is the fourth largest source of non-oil income. Tourism, dear friends, is an engine of development, a generator of jobs and opportunities. Therefore, my message to the tourism professionals and those who study this beautiful profession is that we do not give up, that we continue to unite our efforts to take this sector to another level, because we have all the potential to be the first destination in the region with a new way of doing tourism, a sustainable and regenerative tourism, because where there is tourism, there must be a positive impact for the people, for the economy and for the environment.
With us you will always find open doors, free training and advice, and all the support you need to make the path to entrepreneurship a positive one. Today we have a president who is committed to tourism, as I said before, for the first time we have a significant budget allocated to the development of this industry, which will allow us to put Ecuador in front of the world stage.
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