Each year a community of humpback whales travel 8,000 kilometers from Antarctica to the Ecuadorian coast. A seaward arrival becomes attractive that engages tourism and becomes concrete in profits. Last year, some 110,000 tourists traveled to these areas, 70,000 of them came to Puerto Lopez (Manabi), the epicenter of the dance of these cetaceans.
The sighting and the visits registered in the Island of the Silver and other places of the National Park Machalilla left an economic contribution of up to $ 9’000.000 that arrived until the coffers of the local Government, but also to the pocket of retailers, tourist operators, owners of restaurants and hoteliers. The aspiration is that this year, during the season that will last until September, visits and profits will double, says Pedro Falconí, director of the Department of Tourism of Puerto Lopez, who is waiting to see good results after hard work of promotion.
These are resources that arrive in a timely manner in a canton where deficiencies persist in the supply of infrastructure and basic services and that help to get out of economic hardships to its population.
However, the gains are not as buoyant as you think. Fausto Chóez, owner of the tour operator Machalilla Tour, indicates that this activity is no longer profitable as it was 10 years ago. He says this when he sees fewer clients in his registry and because of the high taxes that, in his opinion, operators must pay today.
“Each operator needs to make a strong investment. For each departure of the boats the exit is of 300 dollars in fuel and it goes something more if the feeding is counted. To this is added the fact of having fewer visits from foreigners. Before came more Argentines and Chileans, now they come little because of the bad economic situation of their countries, “explains Chóez, who explains that Puerto Lopez depends, in large part, only two seasons: the 50 days of whale watching and holidays of the time (February and March, where it is used for snorkeling, kayaking, diving and other water sports).
Wilmer Parrales, owner of the Orca Tour operator, agrees with Chóez believing that the sector faces a high maritime operating expense. However, he admits that the profits still manage to save the investment and face crisis.
Aníbal Ponce, president of the Chamber of Tourism, mentions that there are several points near Puerto López, where whale sightings are also promoted. Currently, he says, work is being done to ensure that tourists who arrive at the place find motivation to stay longer.
“We are working on correcting the shortcomings because it has been perceived that the tourist arrives at the boats, carries out his activity, but does not remain in the place. The cuisine in Puerto Lopez is very good, but there are restaurant owners that exceed their prices and that is why the visitor looks for other places to eat, “recalled Ponce.
The costs affect mainly the national tourist, abroad not so much. Eva Bror, originally from Ohio in the United States, arrived for the first time in Puerto Lopez last Wednesday with a friend to see the whales and visit the Island of La Plata. “I think it’s a beautiful place. We hope that the money reaches us for the days that we have to stay, since it is cheaper than in Costa Rica, “recalled the tourist.
Julio Otero, a native tourist from Guayaquil, who came to this resort with five members of his family, recommended the municipal authorities to control food prices, since for him, however, they were very high.
This is also what Jesús Ríos believes, owner of a hostel and restaurant near the Puerto López pier. “Not for everyone is a season of gain. There are tourists who only arrive and get on the yachts to see whales and then they go. Most seek lodging and food elsewhere, “he said.
“These animals are my blessing”
Heriberto Ventura, with 12 years in the profession, and Adán Soledispa Ventura (with 47), are part of a score of tour guides who guide people in their adventure. Both are from the Ancestral Community of Agua Blanca, an area surrounded by vegetation that lives off ecotourism located south of Puerto López.
Adam speaks three languages: French, English and Italian, which have served him in his profession as a naturalist guide of the Machalilla National Park to develop in what he likes most. He assures that the whales are his blessing, since in times of sighting his services are very required by the operators and this has helped him financially to create and maintain a stable heritage.
“As a guide in whale watching I managed to pay for my professional studies and I graduated as an ecotourism engineer, I managed to acquire my own car and house. This profession and the cetaceans have been a blessing too for my town Agua Blanca, an archaeological and ancestral site where most of the inhabitants are dedicated to this, “recalled Soledispa.
On the yacht, Adán and Heriberto make recommendations to tourists, especially on safety and cleaning issues not affect the ecosystem. “This is a very nice activity, I love water and guide. We have had to deal with tourists who take care of the environment. Very few have been called attention to not throwing garbage into the water. This is one of the strictest recommendations that the guides have, “said Ventura.
In addition, dates will be defined for people who have been mentioned in the previous inquiry go to the Prosecutor’s Office to render a free and voluntary version. Among them is the former Minister of Tourism, Fernando Alvarado; the former legal secretary of the Presidency, Alexis Mera; the former president of the Council of the Judiciary, Gustavo Jalkh, among others. In the same way, Fernando Balda anticipated that he will request to be included as private accuser of Rafael C. (I)