Ecuador counts on tourism growth

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CUENCA, Ecuador -- This nation's tourism minister, Doris Soliz Carrion, said her department aims to double tourist arrivals in four years, to a total of 1.2 million. She also said she hopes tourism will become Ecuador's top income producer within a decade.

Soliz was speaking at BITE (the Spanish acronym for Ecuador's international tourism trade fair), held here last month.

During a press conference, she pledged "to provide the best environment for overseas tour operators."

As for Ecuadoreans, Soliz said the department "wants to enfold rural and ethnic communities in this, too. ... We won't leave anyone out."

BITE, founded in the 1980s, was left dormant for a decade or so and revived last year. This year, it drew 129 exhibitors plus 82 overseas buyers and 79 Ecuadorean buyers, according to Gladys Eljuri de Alvarez, BITE's president.

In the future, Eljuri de Alvarez said, she wants to see the fair expanded to include Bolivia, Colombia and Peru because "we should be united in Latin America."

Booth space was set aside on the trade show floor this year for the other countries, but Colombia's space was vacant when Travel Weekly visited.

The tourism ministry announced in April a public relations and marketing campaign in the U.S. that may cost from $5 million to $10 million this year. The project aims to lure more customers to mainland Ecuador, supplementing the business already done at the country's best-known destination, the Galapagos Islands.

Ecuadorean tour operators at BITE applauded the investment, noting that business from the U.S. is recovering but is not yet at pre-9/11 levels.

Martin Andrade, marketing director for the Metropolitan Touring outlet in Cuenca, said Latin America benefits by being close to the U.S., but not enough people know "what Ecuador is."

He pointed to the successes of Costa Rica and Peru and said that, using those destinations as a model, Ecuador must create a brand. In addition, Andrade said, the Galapagos already have a strong brand, but it is not well identified with the rest of Ecuador.

He called the tourism ministry's promotions "a good start. ... Our company spends a lot of money but not what a government can spend."

Liliana Vasquez de Salazar, general manager of Millennium Travel in Quito, said it would be good to attract more business to the mainland, and promotion will be "a major help because if you don't show what you have, you don't sell."

Oscar Sarabia, a sales agent for Klein Tours in Quito, said the government campaign is "a very good thing," but "it doesn't matter what it focuses on. If people go to the Galapagos, they will go elsewhere anyway."

Calling the U.S. Klein's biggest market, Sarabia termed it an "easy market" because Americans "like our products."

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