“We are struggling and we see no light at the end of the tunnel,” is how Cuenca tour guide Alex Muñoz described the state of Ecuador’s tourism industry Friday when he met with Ministry of Tourism director Rosi Prado de Holguín.
“Many of us who work in the sector have gone out of business since the coronaviurs began and the few of us who are hanging on see very few signs that things will improve,” Muñoz continued. “We have almost lost all hope.”
De Holguín was in Cuenca to meet with tour, restaurant and hotel owners about government plans to assist owners and operators of businesses who are part of Ecuador’s tourism sector. “I realize that times are difficult but reactivation is coming and we have programs to help in this process,” she said, describing loan and tax relief programs as well as planned national and international advertising campaigns to promote tourist destinations.
She added: “Bringing back tourism is a priority for the government since the sector provides employment to almost 10 percent of Ecuadorians.”
Local and national tourism associations claim that government efforts are falling short. “If they really want to help us, they should start with eliminating the barriers that keep tourists away,” says Jaime Ortiz, spokesman for the National Association of Tour Operators. “First, they should eliminate the 14-day quarantine requirement for international travelers. Because of this, there are absolutely no foreign tourists coming to Ecuador today. Other countries have found other methods to protect against the virus that are more creative and less damaging to business and the government here should adopt these approaches.”
In addition, Ortiz says that the government is not even helping to promote tourism within the country. “They say we should concentrate on local tourism but most of the interprovincial buses are still not operating and it is still difficult to drive from one province to another. We need help desperately. The tourism industry is near death and we don’t need more empty promises.”
Tram will be free until September 22
The Cuenca transportation office decided last week that the tram will be free to passengers until September 22. Under the original plan, the tram was scheduled to begin commercial service July 22 but tram officials decided to delay the start until tram and bus fare payment systems are integrated. They also say they need additional time to train tram employees.
Weekend curfew means new hours for stores, buses and tram
Due to the new 7 p.m. weekend curfew, Cuenca area Supermaxis, Super Akis and Coral supermarkets are reducing their hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, closing at 6:30 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m. In addition, municipal buses and the tram are ending service at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Store, bus and tram hours remain unchanged Monday through Thursday.