Ecuador Tourism Expo 2013

I must admit to always being bemused by sources that proclaim to provide knowledge, objectivity and facts, but cannot ever seem to say anything “less than stellar” about the product, service or locale that they promote.  A “stinging rebuke” becomes, at worst, little more than a thinly veiled compliment. We promised none of that here.  So, it was with much excitement that I set off to cover the highly anticipated 2013 Feria Internacional de Turismo en Ecuador (FITE), or International Ecuador Tourism Fair.  I report from the front lines – the good, the bad and the ugly.

I like to lead with a “positive buzz”, so let’s discuss the good.  The Ecuador tourism industry did a very good job of promoting this gala event, featuring over 300 tourism industry participants.  From its promotional use of advance regional teams to permeate each nook and cranny of Ecuador, to its well-orchestrated global campaign effort, this event was placed prominently on the map for anyone truly interested in Ecuadorean tourism.  From the size of the crowds, the successful effort showed.  An active, vibrant and sizable audience was in attendance, as I meandered my way through the endless displays.

Also, extremely positive was the representation from various regions of Ecuador.  While it is often hard to split hairs amongst the many prominent and positive displays, a few notable regions of this gorgeous country stood out from the crowd.  Our “Gold Ribbon” goes out to Cuenca and Azuay Province.  While, quite ironically, offering the smallest display of our “Top 3” and, quite arguably, serving up the least colorful or aesthetically dramatic presentation amongst our Top 3, Cuenca/Azuay Province made up for its diminished swagger with organization and depth of information.  Cuenca was probably the only region of the country to perfectly balance pizazz, a well orchestrated booth presentation, detailed regional information and a host of informed industry participants ready to service any and all inquiries.  Kudos to Cuenca for showing how its done!  This region of Ecuador has the global tourism marketing concept down pat and should be used as a role model for the rest of Ecuador.

Our Silver Ribbon award goes to the Loja region.  Providing visitors an impressive center floor display, of immense proportions, one really got an exceptional feel for the region and the vast opportunities that await both visitors and expats alike.  Captivating, entertaining, well-organized and informative is the only way to describe this regional display.  In fact, Loja could have easily been granted the “Gold Ribbon,” if not for one failing – few, well qualified industry savvy experts were on hand to discuss details with FITE visitors.  The few on staff seemed almost to shun display visitors, rather than aggressively seek out their attention and invite their inquiries.  The Loja region has a reputation for modesty and reserve. This is one time those charming traits worked against the region.

Finally, our Bronze Ribbon goes to Esmeraldas Province.  Featuring a display every bit as immense as the one from Loja, it offered the added advantage of being, much like the region, amongst the most colorful and aesthetically pleasing display themes.  Everywhere a visitor got the sense that a visit to Esmeraldas Province was a journey into a tropical paradise, with the splendor of nature at its central theme.  Right theme…right region.  However, while Loja’s tourism team seemed detached, the team from Esmeraldas seemed absolutely disinterested in responding to inquiries and, when they did, the information presented was often incorrect or incomplete.  There seemed to be little organization surrounding a display, which seemed content to rest on the grandeur of its aesthetic appeal.

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Alas, not everything could be defined as “good.” For the “bad”, one starts with FITE event signage which was less than ideal.  In fact, I am pretty certain that in my trek to finally leave the labyrinth that was the event site, I encountered Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa along the way.  Two mysteries “solved” on my way to finally finding an exit.

Also, I was strangely surprised by the lack of a greater “international” presence at the event, despite a well coordinated global campaign. Sure, I understand, this event was intended to feature Ecuador, but featuring the world is part of establishing one’s place in a global tourism market.  China and Indonesia had large displays, but little information.  Peru had a large display, but, candidly, I am still scratching my head to determine what the intent of the display was supposed to inspire.  To say it was confusing is like saying that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” novels are “a bit puzzling.”  Still, at least I give Peru credit for participating.

However, where were countries like South Korea and Germany, both which have a strong commercial presence in Ecuador?  Colombia, our neighbor to the north and a heavy source of small business investment in Ecuador? Where was the USA, where in Miami about half of Ecuadoreans seem to have a second home? Canada, where many Ecuadoreans left to relocate during the financial crisis of 15 years ago?  It all seemed…well…incomplete.

Lastly…we have the “ugly”.  Sadly, it is reserved for one region of Ecuador.  One region that not only is seen as the “mainland tourism King,” but, alas, a place I call “home.”  I attended the event as it opened.  Listened to a presentation by local political leaders from the host city of Guayaquil.  I then spent another 2 hours touring the facility, making inquiries, getting a great deal of information on the future direction of Ecuador’s tourism industry.  I rounded a corner and…right there…was an empty Salinas booth. Literally seconds later, a team of hurried display booth participants from Salinas finally arrived and started to hastily put together the display booth.  Salinas…the resort capitol of Ecuador, could not be bothered to send a representative team on time, for an event planned for nearly a year.  When I left – and I swear I am not making this up – nearly another 2 1/2 hours later, the display booth for Salinas was still not 50% completed.  There were a great deal of quizzical looks from both those assembling the booth and attendees of the FITE event alike.  Salinas, I sure do hope you get some true leadership come February 2014 elections, because you can’t keeping resting on your laurels from yesteryear.  Tourism is booming everywhere in Ecuador, not just the Galapagos Islands and Salinas anymore.

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Overall, the FITE event was inspired, well-attended and extremely informative. It featured the diversity and grandeur that make Ecuador such an exciting place to discover as a tourist and even more enchanting as a new home for expats.  While I can truly deem the event a rousing success, there is still room for improvement prior to the 2014 FITE Expo.  I await with great anticipation being able to partake of the improvements and refined inspirations derived from this year’s event.