The pandemic crisis is much worse than 9/11, says minister
By Newsroom Infobae
“October 24, 2020
Elías L. Benarroch
In the image, the Minister of Tourism of Ecuador, Rosi Prado. EFE / Chema Moya / Archive
Quito, Oct 24 (EFE) .- The covid-19 pandemic will cost Ecuador’s tourism sector some 2,000 million dollars this 2020, after pulling down three-year efforts to place the Andean country on international circuits, although begins to take timid steps towards recovery.
When reviewing the situation of the sector seven months after the declaration of national emergency – canceled on September 14 although the biosecurity measures continue – the Minister of Tourism, Rosi Prado, indicated that the effects of this pandemic are not even comparable with those of the crisis after the 9/11 attacks.
“The 2001 was terrible, I think it was a tremendous change in how everything was handled (in tourism). The situation was very difficult and it took a while (to recover), but not much,” Prado said in an interview with Efe.
At that time, the now Ecuadorian minister worked for American Airlines, one of the American companies whose planes were hijacked for the attacks by the Al-Qaeda group, which caused a revolution in the way of flying and tourism in general.
So, Prado recalls, “people were afraid to travel, it took 6 to 8 months. Now it is more complicated, we are already eight months from this matter”, without ruling out that “by 2021 we will be ready for the final takeoff”, in a recovery process that could take at least another two years.
THE ENGINE OFF
With an economy dependent on raw materials, especially oil, in 2017 the Government of Lenín Moreno began the search for other development engines, among which it identified the potential of Ecuadorian biodeversity.
The objective was to decentralize the Galapagos Islands, the “jewel in the crown” of Ecuadorian tourism, and also offer its potential in the Amazon, Sierra and Costa regions: the “Four worlds” of Ecuador, as it is known in international campaigns. .
One of the first objectives was to strengthen air connectivity, and between 2018 and 2019 up to six new airlines entered the market, an effort that the pandemic has brought down.
Since March, as in the rest of the world, the sector collapsed, and according to the minister only until August there were losses valued at 1,600 million dollars, “about 2,000 in annual calculation.”
A cost that he described as “very high” for a sector that in 2019 contributed 2.2% to the country’s GDP, about 2,397 million dollars, and whose goal was to reach 4%.
Computing the billing data from last year, and the losses known so far, the sector’s contribution to GDP in 2020 will be negligible, just a few hundred million in the best of cases.
10% OF ANNUAL VOLUME
With contagion rates that are currently around 160,000 cases and 12,500 deaths, and the coffers completely empty to extend a network of support to the sector, reactivation is crucial to save thousands of jobs.
In 2019, tourism offered direct and indirect employment to some 700,000 Ecuadorians, and was the third contribution of foreign currency to its dollarized economy.
Despite the crisis, Prado remains optimistic and highlights that Ecuador was one of the first in the region to open its air borders last June and that currently “we are more or less at 10%” of the visitors arriving in 2019 (1.6 million), and with the aspiration of ending 2020 with 15 or 20% of the total, thanks to the recent opening of flights with Colombia and Peru.
Ecuador currently registers the entry of some 14,000 foreigners a month, and “in Galapagos we had 22,000 and in September we received 1,300,” he says.
For now, she appeals to the reactivation of domestic tourism, and then international tourism: “All the countries that already know us want to return,” she explained.
THE LONG-TERM FOOTPRINT
And as the 2001 attacks generated changes hitherto unthinkable, the pandemic will also leave a profound mark on the way of traveling in the future.
With the recent introduction of up to 22 protocols to guarantee the health safety of tourists and workers in the sector, Ecuador has initiated the reforms in the hope of recovering lost ground as soon as possible.
“The interest in traveling is not going to be lost, it is going to stagnate a bit. Human nature always gives us to continue looking for different and attractive places. I think that people who can travel will do so with all the biosecurity protocols, taking care of their health because nobody is going to go to any destination to get sick, “he emphasizes.
And he indicates that in terms of precautions, Ecuador has been precisely a “reference”, because “Galapagos has always forced us to have sustainable tourism, not mass tourism.”
Asked by Efe about when she thinks all the lost land could be recovered, Prado predicts “two years”, and for this she believes a strategy of “personalization of the experience” and “mutual help” between destinations in the region is necessary.
In this sense, the “Safe Travel to Ecuador” program for an orderly and sustainable reopening includes PCR tests at origin (for Galapagos also at destination), monitoring platforms, detailed contingency plans and a policy of cancellations in trips and services that give security to the tourist.
Some “adaptation keys” that, for Prado, are crucial at a time when Ecuador must first regain air connectivity and then present itself to the world in a global Latin American context.
Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021