A year after the April 16, 2016 earthquake, tourists are returning to Ecuador’s Pacific coast but are finding accommodations limited.
“We lost so many rooms in the earthquake we simply do not have the space to take in everyone who would like to visit,” says José Ochoa, president of the Ecuador Federation of Hoteliers. Construction takes time, he says, and some hotel and hostal owners are still waiting for insurance payments to begin rebuilding.
Another problem, according to Ochoa, is that tourist industry investments have dried up. “Before the earthquake, money for new coastal projects was pouring in; afterwards, it just stopped.” An example is a 300-room, world-class resort that was about to break ground in Playas, between Guayaquil and Salinas. The U.S. investors planned to spend $200 million on the project but backed out following the earthquake. “And this was in an area that had no serious damage,” Ochoa says.
The coastal tourism industry says its business is down 70% overall in the year following the earthquake.
Ochoa and other industry experts believe it will take at least three years to regain the lost hotel rooms and the number of tourists it enjoyed before the quake. “We are finally overcoming the perception problem that the coast is a dangerous place,” says Carlos Acosta, president of the Esmeraldas Chamber of Tourism. “People understand that the ground has stabilized and that we won’t have another large earthquake for many, many years. But we lost six major hotels in Tonsupa and in the other resorts and these have yet to be rebuilt.”
Both Acosta and Ochoa say that major government infrastructure reconstruction, including roads, remains to be completed,. “The government has done all it can to help but we estimate that we still need between $80 million and $100 of work to restore the public systems that were destroyed.”
Foreign tourism has been especially hard-hit on the north coast, according to the travel booking service Despegar.com. “There has been a major contraction of business from tourists from Argentina, Chile, and Colombia,” says Despegar general manager Jorge Luis Páez. “Much of this is bad publicity but there is also the problem of lost hotels, restaurants and other tourist services.”
For the immediate future, Ochoa says the industry is relying on domestic tourism. “All you people in Quito and Cuenca, please come for a visit,” he says. “You helped us to rebuild; now we need to come back as tourists.”