The struggle to build a Nation



Quito, March 7th 2003

I would first like to congratulate Metropolitan Touring on its 50th anniversary. Could you give our readers an overview of the last 50 years of the company?

Metropolitan started as a pioneer, as a leader in tourism. This company started as a travel agency, then it was the first tour operator in the Galapagos Islands, offering charters and becoming the first to organise tours to the islands. We manage 20% of total tourism to the Galapagos islands, leading the way with a 70% market share of high-end tourism to the islands. We are the main service providers for land service tourism on the continent as well.

It has been an interesting challenge because we have also managed our operations with environmental conservation policies. These days Galapagos is a jewel and represents one of the most extraordinary destinations in the world. It is not only considered as a renown natural heritage site, but it is the second marine reserve in the world, it is a sanctuary for whales, it has received prizes as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world and it has also received the prize of best-kept natural park two years in a row.

Yet Galapagos is a place which a limited number of tourists can visit. The acceptable limit of tourists runs up to a level of 121 Million people per year, and this year have reached a level of 90 Million tourists per year. Every year tourism rises about 10 Million tourists, so very soon we expect to reach the maximum level of tourists allowed, which will limit the amount of tours while maintaining the environmental ecosystem of the island.

In Galapagos we have established a visa regime in order to prevent the growth of human population on the island. It was a big sacrifice, but it was necessary to preserve the unique natural heritage that we hope to preserve. We have also established a community-based system of civil representation whereby each citizen of the island has a voice to directly influence what happens in the island.

Therefore, it is an honour for us to be the main operator for such an exclusive destination. Yet we must not forget that Ecuador also has a very rich and varied combination of elements that includes 7 ethnic groups with their proper language that are fighting to survive and maintain their culture.

I believe that Ecuador is the best kept secret in the world in terms of the conditions that it offers for tourists. Without a doubt, the natural beauty of Ecuador is also rich in biological and colourful scenery. We are in the process of launching a project in the Amazonian tropical forest, in a territory of 1.2 Million hectares, which harvests over 230 different species of birds. You might have also noticed that a trip of 30 kilometres outside of Quito takes you into a completely different environment, which reflects the perpetual variety of our fauna that never ceases to amaze and captivate travellers.

Ecuador's future is linked to tourism. In fact, tourism has the potential of becoming one of our major economic activities. We have a great deal to offer, and in comparison with other countries like Costa Rica or Cuba, we have a unique variety that can be found nowhere else.

For example, food in Ecuador is rich in terms of the cultural fusion that exists in our traditional cooking. It is the meeting point of two cultures: the culture of the north and the south. To the north of Ecuador you will savour recipes that are based on corn - the arepas in Colombia, or the tortillas in Mexico. Meanwhile, to the south, Peruvian and Bolivian cooking is potato-based. Yet here in Ecuador you will find a melting pot of both cultures: a mélange of potato and corn, bringing together a fusion of cultures that is as colourful as Mexican dishes and as rich as Peruvian cooking.

In this sense, Ecuador appeals to the senses with its variety of taste, music and nature… this is what makes Ecuador special.

What are the destination opportunities that Metropolitan Touring is looking to develop, outside of Galapagos, in the Amazon or on the coast?

We are building a combination of packages based upon the diversity of the Ecuador. Our focus is certainly not mass tourism like in the Caribbean, for example, since Ecuador is too small. We must develop a tourism that is based on quality, not quantity.

Ecuador is a complete experience - it is an expedition. The first thing you will notice when you arrive is the intensity of the light and the vividness of the colours. In Ecuador white is really white, and yellow is bright yellow. This affects tastes as well, and your taste buds will notice the difference when you savour our local fruits.

Cultural tourism also brings together a historical mix of Spanish and Indigenous cultures, all together under one roof. In Quito you will find a renovated historical capital, and second largest colonial centre of Latin America.

Our goal is to combine cultural, educational, environmental and adventure tourism. The first target market includes the large number of senior tourists that have more time to get to know the country and are willing to have an experience that is safe, varied and pleasurable. For example, senior tourists will be able to view the amazing variety of birds in complete safety, while staying in one of our resorts.

On the other hand, there is also a great potential for young people to come to Ecuador for adventure tourism: we offer a profound experience that can include hiking in the Amazonian rain forest, swimming with whales in the Galapagos islands or climbing the Cotopaxi volcano.

What do you think of the international image of Ecuador, how can we improve it, and what are you doing in order to attract tourists to the country?

The international image of Ecuador, in part due to the instable political situation of the past, is very bad. Moreover, we have not promoted the value and uniqueness of our culture to the international community.

One must ask: why is this country so badly governed? The answer lies in the fact that we are an extremely democratic country, with about 17 political parties but with no consensus. It is like having too many cooks in the kitchen - everyone wants to use their own recipe, so the menu is all mixed up! In a system like ours, where we have too many parties, there is no strong power base in any one party, so each politician must fend for himself and he must get support from different interest groups, which leads to a spiral of political favours and corruption... Nonetheless, Ecuador is a stable country, and although it is true that the country is very poor, reforms are ongoing and today the indigenous community is actually taking part in the government. To give them an opportunity to lead the country is unique and we hope that they will do a good job to lead the country. In Spain, the country has brought together a variety of communities under one roof, and in Ecuador we are trying to do the same thing. We have many different cultures and languages, yet we must live together and use this as a positive contribution to society.

Diversity is part of our heritage. What we must do now is rescue all these concepts and ideas that make Ecuador different, then we need to communicate them. The first step is to show that we exist, and the next step is to promote Ecuador as a unique and exciting destination. With this in view, Metropolitan Touring hopes to play a leading role in the development of sustainable tourism to Ecuador.

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