By Shivani Vora
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador in April that killed at least 650 people and injured more than 2,000, emotionally devastated the country and caused enormous damage. A disaster that severe can often lead to a downturn in tourism, but that may not be the case in Ecuador.
Travel specialists say that the earthquake likely won’t affect tourism because the epicenter of the quake was on the country’s northwest coast, a region dotted with beachfront resorts that are popular getaways for locals but not with international tourists.
Although about half of these hotels were destroyed, according to Gabriela Sommerfeld, the general manager of Quito Tourism, Ecuador travel representatives say that their clients are still interested in visiting the country.
Ginny Caragol, an Ecuador expert at the New York City-based travel consulting firm Valerie Wilson Travel, said that none of her clients with coming trips to the country had canceled or postponed their plans. “The earthquake was devastating, but it happened in a pocket of the country where not many international travelers go,” she said.
Beth Jenkins, an Ecuador expert at McCabe World Travel in Washington, D.C., said that her clients are inquiring about the earthquake but aren’t concerned about visiting Ecuador. “My itineraries to Ecuador never included the north coast where the earthquake happened, and also, none of the country’s top attractions were damaged because of it,” she said.
Although a natural disaster can often cripple a country’s tourism industry, it doesn’t always have to, said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at the San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group. “It really depends on where the disaster happened and how quickly the community can recover.”
Hurricane Odile in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2014 and the 2004 tsunami in Asia “were devastating to tourism in those areas because they were badly damaged,” he said. “In the case with Ecuador, the damaged area isn’t where international visitors really went.”
Although the Galápagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the country’s western coast and known for their spectacular wildlife, are Ecuador’s biggest tourist draw, Quito, the country’s capital, is increasingly becoming a destination, and tourism to Ecuador over all is growing and is significant to the local economy.
According to statistics from Quito Tourism, the tourism industry is the fourth highest source of income in the country and brought in more than $1 billion last year. Also, 1.5 million people visited last year compared with 650,000 in 2007; that same year, less than a half-million tourists came to Quito, but in 2015, the city had more than 706,000 tourists.
A big reason for the jump in visitors is Ecuador’s improved infrastructure. A new airport, Mariscal Sucre International Airport, opened in 2013 outside of Quito with more runways and facilities for passengers. High-end hotels have opened throughout the country such as Casa Gangotena, a 31-room upscale property with a fine-dining restaurant in the heart of Quito’s old city, and Mashpi Lodge, located three hours from Quito in the Equatorial Chocó Bio-Region, known for its rich biodiversity.
“Tourists would fly through Quito to get to the Galápagos, but now that there is better infrastructure on the mainland, they are spending time there and appreciating the many sights,” Ms. Jenkins said.
The Galápagos aside, top attractions in Ecuador include Quito’s well-preserved historic center, a Unesco World Heritage site that is full of plazas, churches and convents; a trip to the Equator where visitors can walk on ground that is said to be precisely at Earth’s midpoint — 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds; and an excursion to the Andean alpine grasslands an hour from Quito, where visitors can soak in hot springs and go hiking and mountain biking.
Other popular tourist destination in the country include Cuenca, another World Heritage city the southern Andes and the Amazon region, suffered no effects from the earthquake.
Still, while the major tourist draws were spared by the April earthquake, there is a part of the country that was badly damaged, and Ms. Sommerfield said that travelers could contribute to a recovery by visiting Ecuador. “The best way to help Ecuador after the earthquake is to visit Ecuador,” she said.
Mr. Harteveltd agreed. “Tourism is a big help in recovering from a natural disaster because it brings in money to the economy,” he said. “And, if you want to be more proactive, you can join the efforts of a nonprofit that’s hands-on in helping with the recovery and make your trip a volunteering vacation.”
Credit: The New York Times, www.nytimes.com