The Productive Network: Selling Ecuador as a destination

07/Junio/2012 | 11:06

By Lance Brashear

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So you want to visit the Amazon but you don’t know how to begin.   Naturally, you go to Google and type “Amazon Tours.”  What pops up first?  Trips to Brazil, and then trips to Peru. Only further down the list will the word Ecuador appear on the screen, and even then it is likely to mention Galapagos before it mentions Amazon, even though you did not type Galapagos into your browser.

Mariela Cardenas, Marketing Director for Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador, says that the options for traveling to the Amazon are so broad that you may tend to pick the first country you come across in your research. 

“If you open a video about Peru, you will stay in Peru,” she says. “When a person from outside [of Ecuador] goes to select where they want to visit in the Amazon it is very difficult because they don’t know where to go.” 

When most people think about the Amazon they probably think about Brazil because that country contains 60 percent of the Amazon Basin.   The other 40 percent, however, is distributed in seven other countries, including Ecuador.  

Most people associate the Galapagos Islands with Ecuador, not the rainforest. And even though half of the country’s land mass is located in the Amazon Basin, many people do not realize Ecuador is a great place to enjoy the Amazon jungle. 

Earlier this year the Amazon of Ecuador Tourism Club was formed to correct that misconception and bring more tourists to Ecuador’s corner of the rainforest.

The club is one of three tourism clubs established to promote Ecuador as a destination.  A second club promotes the Haciendas of the Ecuadorian Andes and a third offers the central historical district of Quito as a place for local and international tourism.

The Amazon and Hacienda clubs are looking for greater, global market positioning.  The clubs were formed by the Productive Network, a project financed by USAID and executed by the Carana Corporation, a consulting firm specializing in economic development.

Luis Maldonado, a senior tourism consultant with the Productive Network says the idea to form a club is not new.  “Clubs like these exist in other countries and they are successful.” 

Marcelo Hurtado, also with the Productive Network, says the activities of the club are 100% commercial.  They have no political agenda.  Their function is to create strategies for opening markets.  “It is not uncommon that there is a lot of internal competition within the tourism sector,” he says.  “The competition between lodges, haciendas, or services is so strong it results in a price war.” 

Though it might seem good for the consumer, Hurtado says, “This is not good for the business.”  He says that the quality of service and experience offered by each operator is devalued by internal competition. 

“What it has done is simply lower prices to have more volume.  The point is that the competition is not internal, it is external…between countries and destinations.”  He adds, “You don’t have to gain tourists, you need to gain market share. Part of the purpose of the club is to influence that dynamic.”

Financing for the clubs is shared between the Productive Network and the individual members of the clubs.  Hurtado says an initial investment of $200,000 was made by Productive with an equal investment shared by all members.  Any lodge or hacienda that meets minimum requirements and pays the fee can be part of the club.

From their initial budget, approximately 60 percent of funds will be designated for travel fairs, roadshows, and press trips while the rest will be spent among promotional material, videos, and administrative costs.

The hope is to see a general increase in sales.  Maria Jose Andrade, Director for Tierra del Volcan, a member of the Hacienda Tourism Club says, “The club is a voluntary association with promotional objectives.  Our indicators are numerical.  Sales.”

How many sales?  Hurtado says that as a general guideline they hope to bring an additional 10,000 tourists.  Sales will be tracked through specially designed tours and itineraries that include all members.  But the itineraries take into account the strengths and differences among the members.

“Each lodge has distinct offerings,” says Maldonado.  “One is stronger in culture while another is focused on wildlife.”  He mentions two in particular: “The Manatee [Explorer] is a boat.  Yachana [Lodge] has a special conservation and education theme.  Each one has its specialty.”

Maria Jose Andrade of Tierra del Volcan, who manages a group of three haciendas in the Cotopaxi region, offers a similar viewpoint for the haciendas.  “People do not come to Tierra del Volcan.” They do not come to [Hacienda[ Cusin, to [Hacienda] Zuleta,” she says referring to two other members. “They come to Ecuador.  They want to see the country.  You have to think in the macro.”  

Like the Amazon lodges, the Haciendas of Ecuador are positioning a concept while recognizing that each hacienda has something different to offer.  “The haciendas can be an experience.  You can have an experience in history, food, tradition, adventure, traveling about the haciendas,” says Andrade.  Staying at two or more haciendas during a tour of Ecuador offers a broader venture.  “They are things that complement.  It is an added value.”

According to the owners of the different lodges and haciendas, the value of the club is in its structure.

Each club has one coordinator and three tour operators or agencies.   Jorge Perez, owner of Hacienda Porvenir, says, “In this case you are sending a third party, independent of the group, to promote the group.  The person that is going to sell is a coordinator that sells impartially a concept like the haciendas and a catalogue with the distinct haciendas and the distinct, recommended tours.”

Andrade says you also have to think about how the lodges can work together.  “One of the things we are doing is well-thought itineraries in terms of cost.  We are looking to combine but are very conscious of prices.”  She adds, “It is not easy to associate, in general, and to work together.  But things are going well because we have a very clear idea.”

The clubs have now been operating for five months, too soon to see solid sales results, but already Hurtado says the biggest result is apparent.  “You see 60 business owners sitting down at the same table to talk about Ecuador.  The tour operators are sitting at the same table.  The dynamic that is generated is completely different.”

 To contact the Amazon and Hacienda Clubs, get in touch with the tour agencies representing each club or contact the Productive Network offices in Quito: 333-2319 or 3333-0377. 

Ciudad Ecuador

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