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Flor Maria Gaona, General Manager, Responsible Travel

ECUADOR - Tourism

Flor Maria Gaona

General Manager, Responsible Travel


Flor Maria Gaona is an Ecuadorian economist. She has experience in developing community and environmental projects, working in various national and international organizations. In 2010 she co-founded Responsible Travel Tour Operator in Ecuador, where she currently works as CEO. In 2011, due to her great passion for the search for a common sustainable development, together with 5 friends with similar interests, she established the NGO Fundación Amazonía Productiva, which she currently leads as its president. Her strength is working with people for the people. She is an active member of Shetrades International.

"The government is looking for strategies to promote Ecuador as a sustainable destination."
TBY talks to Flor Maria Gaona, General Manager of Responsible Travel, about Ecuador’s foreign visitor profile, public and private sector collaboration, and the promotion of sustainable travel.
What nationalities do you mostly receive and why is Ecuador increasingly relevant from an international perspective?

We are a Destination Management Company (DMC) with headquarters in Ecuador, and 90% of our clients are foreign travelers, majority of which are from America and DACH countries, 5% are Ecuadorians and the remaining 5% are foreigners living in Ecuador. Lately, Ecuador has received greater visibility as the government is investing in international promotion campaigns in a wide range of countries. In January we attended the FITUR fair in Spain where particular interest was expressed in Ecuador’s splendid natural environment. The Ministry of Tourism has signed an agreement with Spain to present Ecuador as the partner country at FITUR for the year 2024; “Ecuador: partner destination” is now the slogan in Spain. We are delighted about this cooperation because this will provide us with a higher profile in Europe. Ecuador has also participated in the ITB in Berlin, the world’s biggest tourism fair. Ecuador is an exclusive destination, quiet and unique. Although being a small country, it hosts one of the greatest biodiversity in its four distinct regions, all in close proximity. When starting your travel in Quito, the capital of Ecuador in the Andes, you are just a couple of hours away from the Pacific coast to the West and the Amazon rainforest to the East, and in just a two-hour flight, you can reach the Galapagos Islands to share its beaches with its endemic wildlife. Ecuador has a huge touristic potential being the most diverse country in the region, with 50 protected areas catering to ecotourism, covering more than one-third of the country. The national parks protect nature but also provide economic alternatives through touristic activities for the people living there. All this makes Ecuador an interesting destination for travelers from all over the world, and more and more international travel agencies are including Ecuador in their travel packages.

How are the public and private sectors working to promote sustainable travel?

The government is looking for strategies to promote Ecuador as a sustainable destination. Internally, in the public sector, certain destinations are gaining greater recognition, such as Loja which has coffee plantations, and other destinations that are less well known but that offer much potential. In the private sector, we are always looking for new offers for our clients. The trend is to travel to relaxing places that are less crowded, focusing more on the individual experience of each traveler. The Amazon and the Galapagos cater to this requirement as the number of visitors is limited to protect the natural environment. As operators in the private sector, we have developed programs involving the diverse cultures in the Andes, for example in Guamote, and in the Amazon around Macas, which are not typical destinations. Furthermore, we are trying to promote places with potential but to a few visitors at a time, like Floreana Island in Galapagos. People in Ecuador and Latin America are hospitable and happy to receive visitors. They also see the potential there. Tourism is an alternative to the exploitation of natural resources. Instead of cutting down trees, you protect nature and create destinations where travelers can enjoy the amazing surroundings. As part of our social responsibility initiatives, we began with reforestation projects and community support. In Sucúa, we help students from the Shuar community with their studies. Also, we have a project with an international partner to create a carbon offset program. This includes building a greenhouse in a school in San Antonio de las Aradas in Loja so the students can collect seeds of native plants and grow seedlings, which will be used to reforest an area of around 35,000ha that was burned in 2019, thus recovering local forest while at the same time compensate for the carbon footprint of our clients.

What are the characteristics of your services that make you the best partner for the tourist?

We specialize in custom trips, providing personalized services throughout the entire process, from planning to organizing the trip based on our clients’ preferences. Because of the high quality of our services, travelers can enjoy their travel set up specifically for their interests, time, and budget in a relaxed and safe environment, enjoying unique experiences and taking home unforgettable memories of a trip of a lifetime here in Ecuador while also protecting nature and supporting local people and cultures. The sustainability rules of Responsible Travel are constantly evident in every facet of our tours, and we are ready to meet new traveler needs. We support social and environmental projects through the Productive Amazon Foundation, where we have been reforesting and assisting local people for the past seven years. Consequently, this year, for example, we were able to sign a collaboration agreement with an international partner and jointly contribute to the creation of a socio-environmental project to offset the carbon footprint emissions created by all of our clients. That is, if they travel to Ecuador with Responsible Travel, their journey will be carbon neutral.

How has Responsible Travel been involved in corporate social responsibility?

It’s written in our name, and thus in our DNA. Since our inception, we have been involved in social responsibility and carbon offset. We are members of the German Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce, which promotes sustainable tourism and sustainability in various sectors, to help us achieve this goal. We are members of the Tourism Chamber for Ecuador LGBT+ and have received the internationally renowned Travelife Partner Certification for our sustainability management, confirming, for example, that we have suppliers who are on the same sustainable path as ourselves, that all coworkers are paid fairly, and that transportation is handled with energy and fuel savings. We also have a certification in HK prevention of violence against women. With our social responsibility in mind, we can not only organize unforgettable experiences for our travelers, but also improve the daily lives of the people with whom we work and connect for a mutually beneficial outcome.



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