October 24, 2009
On the early days of November, 1969, the sleek, sparkling white, 60 passenger luxury tour yacht “Lina-A”, flying its original Greek flag, sailed from the port of Piraeus, on the Mediterranean, under the command of captain Apostolos Anastasatos. Destination: the mythical Galapagos Islands, an Archipelago of Ecuador, 600 miles away from the South American country’s mainland, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Purpose: to initiate a permanent and regular service of cruises for tourists around the famous islands, known, until then, mainly as a unique place for science, due particularly to Charles Darwin’s findings during his visit in 1835 and other naturalist ventures into the unique archipelago.
The previous 12 months, meanwhile, a small group of Ecuadorian entrepreneurs and visionaries, the founders and then owners of Metropolitan Touring, dedicated their time and efforts to scout and research the islands, accompanied by knowledgeable local residents; scientists serving at the Darwin Station and National Park officials. The object of these voyages, however, was not scientific. It was to visualize and devise the feasibility and means to establish a long-term permanent tour operation in the islands. The research was complemented by a special investigation which included an operational, administrative, financial and environmental Plan, conducted by the North American specialized firm Arthur D. Little.
The main conclusions determined that the islands’ unique, yet equally fragile ecosystems, required a model of tour operation which would strictly preserve and protect the fauna and flora, (terrestrial and marine), as well as the morphological and geological characteristics of the Galapagos. The participation of scientists and Park managers and experts was vital for the designing of the actual model, just as much as the long-term vision and wisdom of the private entrepreneurs. Elements of high consideration were the lack of fresh water in the islands; the lack of infrastructure and basic services on the four small human settlements (some seven hundred inhabitants between all of them at that time) and the need to have especially prepared and trained naturalist guides.
The option of coming and going to and from the islands by sea was discarded as inadequate and time consuming, thus leading to the necessity of bringing in and sending back the voyagers by especially Charted, bi-weekly flights. Years later, with growth of the demand, tourism and the islands’ population, regular scheduled flights come and go from and to the archipelago on a daily basis. Sorting our the provisioning of fresh water, fuel, materials and food supplies was the source of a myriad of anecdotes, some of them almost epic, in order to make such a complex dream become a reality.
Another feature that resulted from those studies was the convenience of operating with self-contained floating hotels (i.e. cruise vessels), which would minimize the impact both on the uninhabited, pristine and highly delicate natural habitats, realm of the endemic and native plants and animals of the archipelago, as well as on the small and then precarious human settlements, which would, nonetheless, benefit in various ways from one such type of tour operation. Vital elements introduced into the model were a limited number of passengers for the cruise vessels (established then at maximum 80 passengers); especially designated “visitors sites”, the actual locations where the tourists would be allowed to disembark and visit; marked paths or trails from which no one would be allowed to stray from and a set of rules such as not disturbing the fauna and flora; no touching, no collecting; no littering; no feeding….. The seeds of a model that in a few years were recognized as an example of responsible management of tourism on sensible natural areas, and later labeled worldwide as “Ecotourism”, one of the most popular and respected travel modalities, had been placed. While four decades of development and a new kind of “evolution” have demanded periodic revisions and changes on the actual regulations; the basic elements remain in place as the foundations upon which the Enchanted Islands can still be visited by, nowadays, thousands of guests from around the world, who can still enjoy the feeling of isolation, pristine nature and unafraid fauna roaming freely and in some cases even amiably interacting through innocent fun and game encounters with their human visitors. The clues for such reality were then, and still are: responsibility, organization, limits, control and a quality management from the part of the authorities, the tour operators, the visitors, naturalist guides and local community.
Among the group of Ecuadorians who initiated such a pioneer adventure, a real landmark for world tourism, the recognized leader was Eduardo Proano, a man of immense human values, vision, courage, unlimited stamina and passion for work, organization and quality. He is acknowledged national and internationally as the “Founding Father” of Ecuador’s Inbound or Receptive Tourism. Eduardo died at the age of 85, a few weeks ago, and, while his demise caused much sadness in his family and friends as much as in the Ecuadorian and international travel community; he leaves a phenomenal legacy to his family and to the company he founded and directed for decades, Metropolitan Touring, Ecuador’s premier and most recognized travel organization with 56 years of dedicated and responsible work, frequently recognized with international awards; but also to Ecuador and the world of tourism and travel.
Back to 1969, the Lina-A, a luxury 60 passenger Greek yacht, crossed the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean; the Panama Canal and anchored for several days on the Guayas River, in front of Ecuador’s main seaport and largest city, Guayaquil, while the legal paperwork, permits and other formalities were accomplished, before it set sail across the Pacific now, into those islands of legend, ready to start its historical mission: the beginning of regular organized scale and quality tourism in Galapagos. On another Newsletter issue we will tell you more about this fascinating story.