Ecuador is on a mission to let the world know it’s a great travel destination and it’s more than the fabulous Galapagos. With a new campaign branded “All You Need Is Ecuador”, the country is eager to share the four diverse and wonderful worlds (the Galapagos, Amazon, Andes and Pacific) that await visitors. The allyouneedisecuador.travel website serves as a one-stop information portal for travelers considering or planning an Ecuador adventure.
As part of the launch of the All You Need Is Ecuador campaign, Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism came to the US to talk about the country and all the ways they are reaching out to American travelers and making it easier, safer and more convenient to visit.
Here is part one of my interview with Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism Sandra Naranjo:
What is the best way to attract US travelers, maybe as opposed to travelers from other countries?
Yes, I think something interesting has been the importance that US travelers have for Ecuador. So it’s actually 17 percent of the people who arrive to Ecuador are from the US, so it’s our second most important market. So I think one of the things they enjoy a lot about Ecuador is first the climate. Our two peaks are one in the summer and the other one in winter. Many just run away from the snow. That is something that attracts them. The other is the kindness of the people, that is one of the things that they mention a lot. Plus you know the natural things of Ecuador, that sometimes I think they miss. So it’s an opportunity to go away from their routine, go away from what they have and go to a different place that offers new things. Yet giving them, I would say, kind of like the peace of mind that they are also going to something that is familiar enough for them. Because you also don’t want to go to a point where everything is so different that it’s uncomfortable. So for example, people do speak English, they do have brands of hotels that are also known here, we have food chains and stuff. So you always have that piece of Ecuador that will make you feel at home, being in a different country.
Is there a big effort to attract global hotel brands and develop that whole infrastructure?
Yes, for us, I think it’s something important with hotel brands is that they show you or give you sense of what the destination is. So if you say, if you talk about a destination that has Wyndham and Swisshotel and Hilton, that says something about the place where they are. So we have been very, I would say very successful in attracting new investment. So from 2014 to 2016 the investment is around $750 million in private hotels. So we have four new ones, big hotels. So Swisshotel is having two new hotel towers in Guayaquil (Ecuador’s biggest city), the Wyndham is opening the big hotel one Guayaquil and the one in the airport and I think Holiday Inn is also bringing one. So we have different international chains that are coming to Ecuador, that is a good sign for the market too.
I write a lot about luxury travel. Is there an effort to bring in Four Seasons and luxury chains to reach out to that level of traveler?
Yes, that is exactly something that we are working on. For us, the luxury segment of the market is very important because it is the quality of tourist that we want to have. Being a destination that, in a way has lots of natural and cultural resources, we are also very sensitive in the sense that we cannot be a destination that grows just in volume. So we need to grow in the quality of the expenditure to increase our income. So the segment of luxury travel is very important for us. And we do see a lot of products that I would say are attractive to them. So, for example, we have this river cruise Anakonda. That goes in the Yasuni National Park, which is possibly the most bio-diverse place on earth. So just the Yasuni National Park has more species of birds than all the US and Canada together. So you have this luxurious boat with all comfort of the city but in the middle of the Amazon. So that one is beautiful and gets a lot of attention. That is the one that is sometimes chartered by Adventures by Disney part of their cruises. So they do that in the Galapagos. We have lots of luxurious hotels in the Galapagos too, like the Finch Bay Hotel, the Royal Palm, the Safari Camp. And in Ecuador we have some interest of some firms that want to have more hotels in the mainland, particularly in Quito.
In a lot of those cases, is it you or Ecuador reaching out to those brands, or the brands are coming to you, or a little of both?
I would say it’s a combination. Because it’s interesting you know in the hotel industry, you have the people that build the hotels and the ones that manage. We have seen a very good partnership with our Ecuadorean investors. There is also international investment in some of the hotels that is shared. And the brands are starting to come to Ecuador so that is also a good sign. So they go and look for a local partner that in a way takes away the risk of going somewhere they haven’t been before, that they don’t know. So that’s why they look for local partners. But we are very positive and we are getting a lot of attention and responses on that.
As my knowledge was pretty much Galapagos and the equator, how do you expose everything else, to people where maybe that’s their sole image or sole perception of it. Not that that’s a bad perception.
No, no it’s very good. It’s true. The Galapagos is the jewel of the crown. Our main challenge as a tourist board has been showing Ecuador beyond the Galapagos. Showing what we call “the Four Worlds of Ecuador”. And perhaps that is part of the uniqueness of the country. Because we have the Amazon, the Andes, the Galapagos, the coast, but in such a small surface of land that you can actually experience it all. So you literally could have breakfast in the Amazon, you drive and have lunch under a volcano, then you drive and have dinner in front of the coast, then you take a plane to the Galapagos. Literally in one day, just to show you the space that we’re talking about. So I think that is the way we have been promoting the country, this country of the four worlds. No where else has that all in one place, really close, very easy to access. And I think it’s been important the development and attention that Quito has attracted. Because I think it’s been an anchor in the mainland and from there distributing the traffic to the other places in the country.
Keeping with that same idea, in the past, to do all that, you did print ads in magazines and newspapers and TV commercials. It’s a different world now, how do you find yourself trying to reach travelers? Is it a lot of social media?
Actually I think now it’s very important, social media. First, because you get the highest return. And then you reach more people. Currently with the internet you can be more specific and target those who are more willing to travel to the country based on their interests. So I do think for us it’s very important, the use of technology to reach the right people. We saw a very good impact for example with the Super Bowl. We did it the traditional way, we advertised in the Super Bowl, 62 million people saw it. But we doubled that with digital media. So we complimented our strategy of doing it in the Super Bowl with an additional campaign in social media. Which of course didn’t cost as much, but all that helped us to double the impact. So in total it was 133 million people that knew about Ecuador. And that is exactly what we are going to with this one too. And I think perhaps our challenge is to also keep the surprise. To keep people always wondering, “what is Ecuador going to do next?”. So that is the way we are going. We want to surprise everyone and invite them to experience Ecuador, invite them to feel again. That is kind of the evolution of the campaign.
And similar to the hotels, is there a lot of working with the airlines to provide convenient, direct flights?
Yes, to increase the amount we work on two pillars we would say. The one is precisely the typical promotion to the consumer, the promotion to the trade industry because that’s also important. If you promote a beautiful product and when people go the the market they don’t find it, so we’re working with them. And also the promotion to invest in our country as an investment destination. The other one is precisely connectivity. The faster you get there, the least time you spend on traveling, the more you are enjoying the destination. So we are very happy to announce for example that United Airlines increased two more flights during the summer from Houston to Quito. American Airlines changed planes to one with 20 percent more capacity and we just announced that JetBlue is going to start operation in Ecuador starting at the beginning of 2016. So I think that is a very important signal that the market that things in Ecuador is going well. And one of the things they mentioned is the fact that we advertised during the Super Bowl showed to everyone that Ecuador was serious in investing in tourism. It has been important and I think those are the results that we are seeing from our efforts in promoting the country.
In talking to some of my colleagues about Ecuador, one of the issues that came up a lot was safety. What are you doing to promote that this is a safe destination for travelers?
That is very important because we put a lot of effort in promoting the country but we want tourists to have an unforgettable experience. Something memorable and nice and the least thing you want to worry about on your holidays is safety. We have been doing a lot of things. First, there has been an important investment from the government to increase everything that the police needs for example. That is like a $450 million investment in the past eight years. Another important thing is that we implemented a 911 emergency service that the country didn’t have. So that is an additional $250 million investment and it’s covering 100 percent of the place. We also implemented last year, it’s like a safety workshop. In which all the ambassadors based in Ecuador of the different countries, including the US, are part of this. And we do it with the ministers in the safety sector, so the Minister of the Interior, the head of 911. And what we do is we work on all the things related with safety. And we have started to see very good results. We also created protocols of emergency. So currently if something happens to a tourist in Ecuador, we notify their embassy, our Minister of Foreign Affairs and us. So I know exactly what happens with every tourist in the country. So I think that has been very useful to give them a quick response. We are also working on a program with hotels to have a safety buttons. So that if something happens they just press the button and immediately connect to the 911 cameras. That has helped us to reduce possible incidents because it’s also kind of like just the fact that there is something inhibits people from going. So we have been working very hard on safety and we are happy with the results already.
Do you find that US travelers are different from travelers from other countries?
I do think that every traveler has its special characteristics depending on where you come form. And the thing that I find about the US is that do like to experiment. but in a way they do not want to change everything. So for example, they would prefer to go to hotel brands that they know, not to just unknown things. Eventually they would like to have the food that they traditionally have, even though they like to experiment with local food. I think they also feel more comfortable if they have someone that will speak to them in English, or at least part of the guided tour someone that they can understand and talk to and communicate. But I also find that they really enjoy for example, experiencing the nature or the people. Being with the community, experiencing the local food. But without going completely out of their comfort zone, that’s what I’ve found. And I think Ecuador has a good mix of that.
I understand visitors to Ecuador can have the opportunity to see the President.
In Ecuador, you can enter the Presidential Palace, we have tours every day. Every Monday at 11 AM, there is what we call the “Changing of the Presidential Guard”. So this is a traditional ceremony that is done where they switch the guards. The President is there every Monday at 11 AM and he goes to the balcony and greets the people.
I interviewed Minister Naranjo on May 14, 2015 in New York City.
Follow travel blogger Freddy Sherman on Twitter @luxuryfred and @ luxuryfred.com