(9 a.m. EST) -- Ecuador is planning to use this year’s visitor slump caused by the Coronavirus pandemic to tighten up tourism procedures for the Galapagos Islands.
Senior tourism ministry adviser Mariano Proano cited moves to improve the performance of naturalist guides who accompany travellers around the islands and to raise standards of entry-level accommodation and tours. He also hinted at further changes that may affect the region’s cruise market, but did not give further details.
Speaking at a webinar organised by Latin American specialist Veloso Tours, he was asked if this year’s halt in cruise operations had brought a good opportunity to do things differently.
"There is no limitation as far as numbers going to the Galapagos," he confirmed. “But this is a chance to redesign the way the Galapagos is operated and to correct those things not handled in the way the market expects.
"We are aiming to review policies and practices to ensure that any impact on residents and tourists is strengthened or improved."
Other popular cruise destinations across the world have used the market slowdown to review their positions, with Key West already deciding to limit the size and number of cruise ship calls when sailings resume.
Ecuador tourism minister Rosi Prado de Holguin said there were currently no plans to tighten regulations governing the Galapagos islands any further than those imposed due to the pandemic.
"We don’t have any restrictions yet and we don’t know what the situation is going to be, whether they will be necessary or not, but right now the Galapagos is completely open for tourism," she explained.
However, Ecuadorian tourism consultant Luis Maldonado-Robles called for cruises to the islands to be marketed as expeditions or journeys to help distance themselves from the mass market stereotype of mega-ships carrying thousands of passengers.
The remote archipelago, which sits 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most tightly-controlled tourism regions on the planet with strict regulations protecting its fragile and unique ecosystem.
Cruise ships are limited in size to a maximum of 100 passengers and their routes around the islands are governed by the Galapagos National Park Authority which allocates slots for ship visits to specific islands at precise times.
Proano conceded that over the years the islands had become a model on how a protected area should be managed, but he said the park authority and tour companies would now be making recommendations for "necessary action".
"After all, the Galapagos is the jewel of tourism in one of the most important nature destinations in the world," he added.