Although behind its South American neighbors in terms of awareness in the U.S., Ecuador benefits from its growing popularity that will attract both young and well-traveled Americans looking for a unique experience.
Editor’s Note: Skift is publishing a series of interviews with CEOs of destination marketing organizations where we discuss the future of their organizations and the evolving strategies for attracting visitors. Read all the interviews as they come out here.
This continues our series of CEO interviews that began with online travel CEOs in Future of Travel Booking (now an e-book), and continued with hotel CEOs in the Future of the Guest Experience series (which is also an e-book).
Ecuador is looking for some American love.
The country’s tourism ministry recently shifted its marketing focus to the U.S., its second largest market after Colombia, with the goal of increasing visits and visitor spend. Ecuador is currently a popular destination with expats and retirees, attracting 250,000 visitors in 2014, but the country is now promoting diversity and accessibility to draw short-term, higher-spending travelers.
The government is actively working to prepare its destination for visitor growth by training youth to become future workers in the industry and outlining a growth plan that protects its natural assets from losing their lust under the pressure of greater tourism.
Skift recently spoke with Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism Sandra Naranjo about their marketing strategy and sustainability goals. An edited version of the interview can be found below:
Skift: Ecuador is surrounded by very well known tourist destinations like Colombia and Peru. How do you compete and raise awareness in the U.S. where these countries have a head start in place awareness?
Sandra Naranjo: The main appeal of Ecuador is that we are at the center of the four worlds in the region. You can actually experience the Amazon, the Andes, the coast, and the unique Galapagos Islands all within our country.
Also, Colombia and Peru have been promoting their destinations for a long time whereas Ecuador is a booming destination. I recently spoke to two U.S. operators and they said that people are now switching to Ecuador for something different. One of differentiators is Ecuador’s size, which makes it easy and accessible.
In a culture where people don’t have a lot of time and vacation time is getting shorter, it’s an opportunity to experience different things all in one place. Visitors don’t have to spend their holiday traveling but actually enjoying the destination.
Skift: Ecuador was the only destination with a Super Bowl ad this year as part of your efforts to raise awareness in the U.S. What was the impact of the ad?
Naranjo: We’re pretty happy with the results. We’re able to measure that about 66 million people saw the ad and that we doubled that impact to about 133 million through media.
We’re also receiving feedback from airlines that say they’ve seen an increase in interest in Ecuador since it’s airing. For example, one airline is starting seasonal flights to Ecuador and another one is bringing in a larger plane to meet demand. We are seeing the positive impacts of the Super Bowl ad now.
In the end, our goal is not how many people saw the ad but how many more people are coming to Ecuador as a result. We expect to see an increase in visitors during the summer, which the popular season for people from the U.S. to come to Ecuador.
Skift: Ecuador is aiming to double tourism growth from the United States in the next five years. What is the strategy for making that happen?
Naranjo: We are shifting our focus to the U.S. as one of our priority markets. We are interacting directly with fans, introducing consumer promotions, and will launch a new campaign in May. We want to have a strong presence around consumers.
We are also starting to develop a relationship with the travel trade. For example, we’re having a large road show this May where we travel to key markets from L.A. to New York to train and educate tour operators about our destination. We’ll share what the attractions are, why it’s unique, and explain reasons for them to start selling it.
We are trying to close the circle by targeting the trade, in addition to consumers, to make sure the product is available when people start looking for it. The Super Bowl ad creates awareness but it’s quick. We want that to be closer to our call to action that results in people actually coming to Ecuador.
Skift: What are some of the misperceptions of Ecuador that you’re trying to change in the U.S. market?
Naranjo: One of our challenges is showing people that Ecuador is much more than the Galapagos. Many people know about the islands because they are so iconic. The challenge is showing Ecuador has much more to offer in terms of nature, culture, and even food. Also, one of the things that travelers say impress them most about Ecuador, other than nature, are the local people. We’re trying to talk more about our people so that the world knows it.
Skift: Do regional or national politics have any impact on tourism?
Naranjo: Not really because tourism to the country is growing. Arrivals grew 13 percent, almost three times faster than the world average and twice as fast as the South American average. I think that people separate Ecuador as a tourist destination and Ecuador as it relates to politics.
For example, Ecuador was ranked the number one country for retirees for five years in a row. Last year it was ranked as the top country for ex-pats. If you read the survey, one of the first things people mention are the locals and how they feel welcome. They also appreciate the climate.
Skift: Adventure and nature tourism is big for Ecuador from rafting on the Amazon to trekking the Andes to diving. What about sustainability? Are there fears that increased tourism will have a detrimental impact on nature and hurt its long-term potential?
Naranjo: This is one of our big questions. Countries can decide to grow in volume, measured by arrivals, or to grow visitor expenditure by limiting the kinds of arrivals. We choose to grow not just in volume, although arrivals are of course important, but also in terms of the quality of the expenditures and money left in the destination.
Ecuador is ranked in the top 25 percent of the World Economic Forum’s country ranking because of our natural and cultural heritage. This is our main asset and we want to keep it for the long run. Our strategy can’t be to just increase volume because of sustainability so we are putting a lot of emphasis on preservation and conservation. We want to grow, but use our resources wisely so that they can keep generating income in the future.
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Photo credit: Ecuador Minister of Tourism Sandra Naranjo stands with fellow Harvard Kennedy School alumni. Harvard Kennedy School / Flickr