As more earthquakes are recorded at Cotopaxi, uncertainty about the future takes a toll on the local tourism industry, and other businesses too
As the latest reports show pressure growing inside Cotopaxi, owners of tourist lodges, haciendas, and tour companies close to the volcano say that uncertainty about a potential eruption is taking a toll on their businesses.
On Saturday, the Geophysical Institute reported the number of earthquakes centered inside the volcano has grown since Friday, indicating movement of magma and growing internal pressure. “There is increased pressure within the magmatic reservoir. We are watching this carefully,” the institute said.
Meanwhile, the owner of one of Ecuador most historic and picturesque haciendas says that the number of tourists making reservations has dropped to almost zero due to news about the volcanic activity. Most of the rooms of the 400-year-old Hacienda La Cienega are empty today, says its owner Jorge Albornoz.
“We used to have reservations months in advance and worked with 35 tour companies in Europe and North America,” he says. “Now, most of the reservations have been cancelled and we are only working with a few operators.”
Once the property of the Catholic Augustinian order, the famous hacienda was the temporary home to German scientist Alexander Humboldt during his South American studies in the late 1790s. Humboldt’s room at the hacienda had a direct view to Cotopaxi, only 18 miles away.
In the 35 years that it has lodged tourists, La Cienega has been one of the most popular destinations in Ecuador.
Albornoz says that if the situation does not change soon, he will be forced to lay off employees and possibly close the hacienda. He claims that bad information and fear are a large part of the problem.
“We are in a safe place here even though we are close to the volcano,” he says, pointing out that the hacienda has survived seven eruptions since it was built. “When the government declared the state of emergency, it scared away our business.”
An employee at the Geophysical Institute who asked not to be identified, says that the fear is justified. “It is true that La Cienega has withstood many eruptions but it is also a fact that it is built on debris fields from earlier eruptions. It could be destroyed by a large eruption,” he said. “I can’t blame foreign tour operators for cancelling. They know that this is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. This cannot be denied.”
La Cienega is not the only business hurting due to uncertainty. “Anything associated with tourism near Latacunga, including hostals, tour operators, and transportation companies are being badly hurt,” said Gustavo Roma, who owns a tour company in Latacunga. “Our climbing guides have no work. Our vans sit empty. My friends’ lodges have no guests. It is terrible,” he said.
According to government tourism official Cristian Montenegro, there is little that can be done. “Our first priority is protecting lives in case of an eruption. I understand that people in the tourism business are feeling pain and we will do what we can for them but we cannot change Mother Nature.”