Saturday, October 1

Economic crisis: Poverty and protests hold back tourism on the biggest bridge of the year in Ecuador | International

View of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador whose port is the first access point for cruises to the Galapagos.
View of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador whose port is the first access point for cruises to the Galapagos.

Ecuador has kilometer-long beaches with palm trees, bathed by the warm water of the Pacific and with a climate that remains above 30 degrees throughout the year. The natural conditions of the country bless domestic tourism on every holiday. But there is a crisis. And that has deflated the desire to leave the home of the families in the five days of the bridge that begin this Saturday for the Day of the Dead. The Ministry of Tourism estimated that 77 million dollars would be moved, more than it expected just two years ago when no one had yet heard of the coronavirus or confinements.

But expectations for a full recovery have been dampened by two factors, one being the last minute. This year, as in 2019, social unrest has brought to the streets a mobilization of the indigenous community that translates into roadblocks and blockades. Two years ago, the protests paralyzed the entire country for three weeks. Now, it has been only three days and only on some access roads to Quito, the capital. But they have been enough to set off a wave of hotel cancellations. “They fell by 15%,” says Holbach Muñetón, representative of the tourism union.

When the organizers of the mobilizations announced a truce on Thursday “out of respect for the tradition of the deceased,” the hotel establishments again received calls. “But the damage is already done; You cannot live in a country of uncertainty ”, complains the president of the National Federation of Provincial Chambers of Tourism of Ecuador. Neither the cities have been emptied of people nor have there been major traffic jams on the roads as on other occasions. There are areas with 40% occupancy, others 50% and in beach destinations they reach 75%.

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But another front has also deterred Ecuadorians. “I do not have a permanent job, I live off cachuelos (sporadic jobs),” explains Antonio Calle. The bricklayer seeks a stable source of income in Guayaquil, the country’s economic capital, to support his family. “I have deprived myself of going out for a walk or traveling on the holiday, if I start spending, what do I eat?”, He replies. He regrets because “he has sent dozens of folders with his resume and there is no job.”

Families’ pockets are worn out by the effect of the covid-19 pandemic that destroyed thousands of jobs and ate up household savings. There are those who have decided to stay in their cities to spend the five days off and also those who will only go out for a day or two. “At the beginning it was the coronavirus that locked us in, now it is the economic situation and insecurity,” Calle resigned. Only three out of 10 Ecuadorians, as President Guillermo Lasso has repeated, have a formal job in a country with a third of its population living in poverty and extreme poverty.

What the bricklayer counts is what you see in the tourist spending figures. Each Ecuadorian leaves less than $ 60 and travels two or three days. For this reason, what the tourist industry demands to get out of the crisis are not many holidays in a row but state incentives. Half a million people work in the sector, according to government statistics, which has tried to convince Ecuadorians to travel during the bridge with a campaign that says that this is how the national economy is reactivated.

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“I’m just going to stay here so as not to spend because there is no money,” ditch Christian Granizo, a young man who supports his sister and parents financially. What do you work on? “It worked,” he responds. He had a job at a fast food company lost in the pandemic and now lives off a day or two of errands. He complains that everything is more expensive and it does not occur to him to travel as before to beach destinations, such as Salinas or Montañita, where the majority of Guayaquil pilgrims at this time. “Before I would go to the market with $ 30 and I would bring a lot of products; now I only bring certain things like to make a lunch or a snack (dinner). There is no money, no savings ”.

Despite the straits, the Deadline holiday on November 2 and the Cuenca Independence holiday on November 3 make this bridge the second busiest after Carnival. The tourist offer is prepared for the arrival of visitors and businesses hope that the case of Ronaldo Carrasco, a school route driver who will go with his family for five days to Baños de Agua Santa, on the top of the Andes, is not the exception. “At the moment, our economy is stable and with these savings we are going to travel,” says the professional driver. He will go to a $ 10 a night hotel with his wife, daughter, parents, three brothers, two cousins, an aunt and a nephew. “It is our first trip since March 2020,” he acknowledges. The mask only reveals your smile when your eyes narrow.

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