Oil and roses define Ecuador


ECUADOR (eTN) – The temperature in New York was hovering at 100 degrees F. when I left JFK enroute to Quito, Ecuador. The weather channel forecasted spring-like weather, and Trip Adviser recommended dressing in layers. With t-shirts, a sweatshirt, cotton scarf, an assortment of blouses, and a leather jacket plus blue jeans, sneakers, boots, an umbrella, and sun block, I thought I was well prepared for the changing weather conditions in this small but multi-faceted country. Not only was I correct in my layers… I used every single item tucked into my luggage and carry-on.

Where is it
Hugged by Columbia (on the north) and Peru (south and east), Ecuador is bounded by the Pacific Ocean (on the west). Strategically located at the equator, the country is defined by its locale and is home to 13.2 million people, with most living in Guayaquil (2 million) and Quito (1.8 million). The World Bank finds that Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands) is “…one of the countries with the highest biodiversity on the planet.”

It is really easy to do business and travel throughout the country as the US dollar is the local currency (beginning in 2000). However, the well-educated, left-leaning president, Rafael Correa (elected in 2007), a man who counts Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales among his best friends, creates an environment that does not encourage new business development.

Given the fact that President Correa holds multiple college degrees, including an MS in economics (1999) and a doctorate in economics (2001) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the expectation is that he would encourage Latin America’s seventh-largest economy to become the poster-child for entrepreneurship. However, according to the CIA World Fact Book, the “Economic policies under the Correa administration – including an announcement in late 2009 of its intention to terminate 13 bilateral investment treaties, including one with the United States – have generated economic uncertainty and discouraged private investment.”

The major economic engine for Ecuador is oil (approximately 500,000 barrels per day). However, other major exports (2002) include: bananas (US$936.5 million), canned fish (US$333 million), cut flowers (US$291 million), and shrimp (US$251 million). Ecuador also benefits from money transfers (US$1.7 billion, 2003) sent “home” by nearly a million Ecuadorian immigrants employed outside the country.

Tourism Matters
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Economic Impact report (2011), the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Ecuador’s’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to be US$1,214.2 (1.9 percent of total GDP) for 2011 with an annual growth to reach 4.9 percent by 2021. This reflects economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines, and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). Travel and tourism is responsible for supporting 96,000 jobs (1.7 percent of total employment) in 2011, increasing to 134,000 (1.9 percent) by 2021.

Branding Ecuador – Life at its Purest
The firm of Joseph Chias developed the strategic marketing plan for tourism. In 2007, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito registered 461,000 international tourist arrivals, with a total of 1.2 million Ecuadorian and international visitors, who generated US$606.7 million for the Metropolitan District. Looking to improve these numbers, the Chias objective is to push the total visitor numbers to 1.8 million unique visitors by 2012, generating US$1 billion for the city. New tourism products will emphasize the increasing professionalism of the sector in general and the improvement on all levels of tourism services and attractions.

There is also optimism for the future growth of Ecuador. The real estate firm of Cushman & Wakefield finds the Ecuador market for high end commercial real estate to be small compared with other Latin American markets; however, they have determined that there is a significant amount of unmet demand for corporate office space.

On the public side, government spending on infrastructure is creating jobs and motivates companies to meet growing demand for goods and services and a US$1.0 billion 4-year loan from the China Development Bank Corp. (2010) is facilitating the expansion of these infrastructure projects.

Although English is taught in some schools, the dominant language is Spanish. Without the ability to speak Spanish visitors will have to acquire a local guide to facilitate the stay. While most Quito residents are Roman Catholic, mestizio (mixed indigenous and European ethnicity), some share an African ancestry, and many expatriates are from China, Italy, Germany, Columbia, Chile, and Lebanon.

Transcendental Moments
Quito recently received the title of American Capital of Culture (2011) by the International Bureau of Cultural Capitals (www.ibocc.org) enabling the city the opportunity to reveal its incredible diversity, wealth and important heritage features. This terrific city has acquired other titles during its history, including “Light of America” for being the first city in Spanish America to seek self-government, “Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” and the first city to be named by UNESCO (1978) as a world heritage site.

Quito An All-Time High for Visitors
Ecuador struggles to get media attention. Between the high profile of Columbia’s drugs and Peru’s Machu Picho it has been a challenge for Ecuador to get noticed. Unfortunately some of the coverage it does receive does not provide an objective view of the multifaceted opportunities for foreign visitors.

Quito is Ecuador’s capital and the nations governmental, political and a center for art, architecture, crafts, dining and shopping. Walking the hills and meandering through the narrow streets of Quito is an absolute delight for in every window and in every storefront showcase there are treasures that are distinctive to Ecuador (and lost in such destinations as Shanghai and Mexico). In fact, Quito’s downtown streets are the largest, best preserved and least altered Colonial Downtown in the Americas!

Newbie’s to Quito may find themselves slightly dizzy or sleepy upon arrival and the feelings are not do to fatigue or excitement but rather a result of the elevation of the city; it ranks as one of the world’s highest altitude capitals with an elevation of 9,200 feet above sea level. Year-round daytime temperatures hover in the 70s F and may dip in the evening to 55 F, presenting visitors with delightful spring-like weather. The dry season typically runs from June through September and the rains last from October to May. To be safe rather than sorry, consider the weather as changeable.

Quito is a modern city and the center for political and power and financial enterprise. It is also important for historic districts, Baroque architecture, churches, plazas, and very special shopping opportunities. In Part Three of Ecuador Live, the best if Quito (and environs) will be reviewed.