IGTOA Calls Upon Ecuador to Implement Zero Growth Galapagos Tourism Policy

In a letter today to Mauricio Efraín Baus Palacios, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Ecuador to UNESCO, IGTOA called upon the government of Ecuador to honor the commitment it made in 2017 to implement a zero growth Galapagos tourism policy and to regulate land based tourism as effectively and carefully as ship based tourism is regulated.

The letter notes that if current tourism growth rates are allowed to continue, the Galapagos Islands are set to welcome one million visitors by 2040 (up from less than 70,000 in 2000) and could jeopardize the fragile ecosystems of the islands and their reputation as one of the world’s premier nature destinations.

Since 1998, there have been strict limits placed on the number of passenger ships and total berths allowed to operate in the Galapagos. This forward thinking policy placed a de facto limit on the number of ship based passengers that can visit the islands each year and has served as an example to the rest of the world for how well managed tourism and nature can coexist. At the time, almost everyone who visited the islands did so by ship and land based tourism was relatively uncommon. In the ensuing years, an explosion in the number of hotels and other types of overnight rentals in the islands led to a huge increase in land based tourism, which has resulted in a  300% increase in visitor arrivals between 2000 and 2019. 

In 2007, UNESCO took the extraordinary step of placing the Galapagos on its List of World Heritage in Danger, citing uncontrolled tourism growth and the lack of a clear plan to address it as a primary factor in its decision. Although it was removed from the list in 2010, tourism growth has continued unabated: in April of this year, Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism celebrated the fact that March visitor numbers had surpassed 2019 numbers by nearly 25% and announced new flights to the Galapagos from the Manta, which will only exacerbate the problem.

The letter, copies of which were sent to Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and Head of the IUCN World Heritage Programme, reiterated IGTOA’s support for raising the national park entrance fee so that it is commensurate with other top tier parks around the world and instituting a formal cap on hotel beds.

Matt Kareus

Matt is the Executive Director of IGTOA.

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