Recently a student who is writing a thesis about promoting tourism in Ecuador asked me: “Why Ecuador?” It is the main goal of her thesis, to find the best way to promote Ecuador as a great tourist destination for Dutch tourists. It is a very interesting question. I love Ecuador, but even after visiting Ecuador for 20 years now, I still don’t know the best way to promote tourism in Ecuador.

Why Ecuador struggles to be recognised?

Sea lion on Galapagos Islands tourMaybe we can answer that question by looking at the way how neighbouring countries Colombia and Peru represent themselves? A good example are the travellers I used to meet in Peru and who were on their way to Colombia. They were often discussing the quickest way to travel through Ecuador. So I would ask them why they didn’t want to spend more time in Ecuador? They found a tour to the Galapagos Islands too expensive, while the Amazon Rainforest can also be visited from Peru or Colombia. Often they just had no idea how beautiful the mainland of Ecuador is. To them the only two other known highlights in Ecuador were a train ride along the so called ‘Devils Nose’, an impressive engineering feat in railway construction and the Quilotoa Crater Lake. But even these two destinations can just be visited on the way from Peru to Colombia. So why Ecuador? Why ‘waste time’ in Ecuador on your way to Colombia?

But why Colombia?

To return the question; why is Colombia more attractive for travellers than Ecuador? If I would ask these travellers about all their touristic highlights in Colombia, most of them would answer: Cali, Medellin, the Caribbean beaches of Tayrona and Cartagena, the culture of Medellin and some would even mention that they wanted to hike the Lost City Jungle Trek. Indeed, all of these places in Colombia are interesting to visit, but Ecuador also has many touristic highlights. Why is the beauty of Ecuador less known than the beauty of Colombia? Is it because the Colombians are more vocal about their own country? Or has it something to do with the different images of Ecuador and Colombia towards the outside world? For many years it was considered dangerous to visit Colombia, but since the peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government, safety has improved. Immediately this created a draw for travellers who wanted to visit this ‘new’ exotic location and see for themselves how this country of ‘former’ drugs cartels looks. A great tourism campaign was feeding into this excitement among curious travellers. The Ministry of Tourism proudly stated: “Colombia, el único riesgo es que te quieras quedar allí” which means something like: “Colombia, the only risk is that you don’t want to leave”. Why can Ecuador not come up with a slogan like that?

The negative image of Ecuador

Climbing the Cotopaxi Volcano in EcuadorIn comparison to Colombia, for many years the image of Ecuador was ‘boring’. The main tourist destination in Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands, but if you don’t have the money to visit these islands, then why should you go to Ecuador? Little by little backpackers who travelled through Ecuador discovered more touristic highlights, including the spectacular train ride along Nariz del Diablo, the smaragd green Quilotoa Crater Lake and the impressive Cotopaxi Volcano, the second highest active volcano in the world. But then in the year 2000 Ecuador changed its currency from the Sucre to the US Dollar and prices went up. Suddenly Ecuador went from a cheap to an expensive country to visit. Although it is only partly true, this negative image has stuck with Ecuador, even until now… The image of Ecuador being expensive was joined by the image of Ecuador being a dangerous country after the ten day, nationwide protests of 2019. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, the perception of danger increased when organized crime moved from Colombia, Peru and even Eastern Europe, into Ecuador. Why Ecuador? They needed a big international harbour and both the local police and criminals in Ecuador were not well organised to stop these new gangs.

Is Ecuador now a dangerous country to travel?

Guayaquil traveling EcuadorNo, most tourists and travellers who visit Ecuador will not notice anything from this increased gang activity in Ecuador. See also our article about Safety in Ecuador. Why Ecuador now seems like a dangerous country to travel is because the gang violence in Ecuador is relative new to Ecuador and therefore frequently in the news. However, in neighbour countries Colombia and Peru organised crime is already integrated in big parts of these countries. It isn’t news anymore. Luckily they rarely interfere with tourism, because they have other business interests that are way more valuable to them. Currently you can compare traveling to Ecuador with traveling to France. Visiting Guayaquil, will be like visiting Paris, but if you visit any other part in Ecuador, it will be like visiting any other part in France.

Why travel to Peru?

North of Ecuador, Colombia is offering their tourists a bit of mystery and excitement, while south of Ecuador, Peru doesn’t need much of an introduction. Most people who like to travel have heard of Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and Lake Titicaca. These three unique and mayor tourist destinations can all easily be visited on a two week tour through Peru. Therefore Peru doesn’t really need much of a publicity campaign. Still, even with these three important tourist attractions, travel agencies in Peru continue to highlight ‘new’ tourist attractions.

The Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountains PeruAn amazing example is the so called Rainbow Mountain. Before 2013 the only tourists who got to see this iconic Mountain, were those who participated in the tough 5 to 7 day Ausangate Trek. The first pictures of the Rainbow Mountain that circulated on Social Media, were slightly alternated, so the different minerals on the mountain looked even more colourful. The pictures drew a lot of attention among travellers. So much that a local travel agent in Cusco decided to organise full day (14/ 15 hours) tours to visit this Rainbow Mountain. At first it were mostly backpackers who took this long and tiering tour. But with the pictures they shared online, the popularity increased so much that local communities and authorities constructed a new road to cut the travel time. The Rainbow Mountain is now another mayor tourist destination in Peru, receiving more than 1500 tourists on a daily base! Although there are other so called ‘Rainbow Mountains’ around the world, in less than 10 years’ time the one in Peru has become the most famous Rainbow Mountain in the world.

Why Ecuador wanted to attract rich tourists?

Nariz del Diablo train departing RiobambaA few years ago the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism hyped one of their own tourist attractions, a train ride through the scenic Andean Mountains. Based on the popularity of the railway section along the ‘Devils Nose’, they reopened the complete old train route from Quito to Guayaquil. Great idea that caught attention all over the world. However, while a ticket to ride along the Devils Nose around that time cost 25 US$ p.p., the price for the 4 day train journey started at a steep 1200 US$ p.p. On top, the train would only travel twice a week with a max of around 54 passengers. Long story short, although the train ride won an international tourism award, it never reached its potential. The wider idea behind Ecuador’s tourism campaign was not to attract more tourists to Ecuador, but rather to attract fewer tourists with more money to spend. This was/ is a bad strategy. Generally speaking Ecuador isn’t a high end tourist destination. Except for cruises around the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador doesn’t have the logistics and image of a luxury tourist destination.

Why Ecuador can learn from Colombia and Peru?

Current excuses from travellers who skip Ecuador are that the country is boring, expensive and/ or dangerous compare to Peru and Colombia. It is an image that is unfair, yet it sticks. So before Ecuador can aim to attract rich tourists, they first have to show the world how beautiful their country is and why tourists should travel to Ecuador. For this Ecuador needs to improve its popularity among every type of traveller, including, or maybe even especially among the backpackers. It were first the backpackers who showed the world that Colombia is now safe to travel. It were the Social Media pictures of backpackers that made the Rainbow Mountain a new ‘must see’ attraction in Peru. To improve her image, Ecuador needs to invest more in the correct positive publicity for all types of travellers.

Tips for the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador

Why Ecuador Ama la Vida– Make sure that the people who work at the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador actually know their country, like to travel and like to talk in a positive way about their country.
– Build an up to date website that’s both inviting and informative.
– Design a website were travellers can buy bus tickets for all the major bus companies.
– Change the tourism logo. It doesn’t represent Ecuador and it doesn’t appeal to people. In Peru even the Peruvians wear clothing with their ‘Nazca P’ tourism logo on it.
– Find a catchy slogan like Colombia did.
– Flow the internet with positive news about Ecuador, beautiful videos and amazing pictures and invite travellers to do the same!
– Ask everyone who has been to Ecuador: “Why Ecuador? What did they like about Ecuador?”. They might find it difficult to give a specific answer, because in Ecuador you don’t travel from highlight to highlight, instead the whole journey is a highlight!

Peru tourism logoWhat do you think? Why Ecuador? How would you promote tourism in Ecuador? Let us know and help improve the image of Ecuador.