Concerns surrounding the growing numbers of visitors to the Galapagos have prompted local Ecuadorian officials and tourism industry brands alike to take new measures to protect the legendary destination.
Ecuador’s ministries of tourism, environment and agriculture recently revealed a proposal to double and in some cases quadruple the entrance fee travelers pay to visit the archipelago, according to a report by Mia Taylor of TravelPulse.com.
The current entrance fee for Galapagos National Park is US$100. Officials plan to increase that fee to $200 for those visiting the islands who also spend at least three nights in mainland Ecuador, The New York Times reported. For those who only spend one or two nights on the mainland, the fee would be raised even higher, to US$400.
Specific details surrounding the new proposal and how it would be carried out have yet to be finalized. Officials are expected to settle such matters by the end of the year, including identifying a start date for the new fees as well as how authorities will verify each visitor’s itinerary length, the report said.
A representative from the Galápagos Government Council told The New York Times that the entrance fee has not been increased in 20 years. The increased income is to be used to improve sustainability, conservation and management efforts.
The fee changes represent just one of the efforts to protect the fragile destination from growing overtourism challenges. More than 275,000 travelers visited the Galapagos Islands in 2018, which represented a 14% increase over 2017.
Cruise and tour operators who service the Galapagos also have a responsibility to implement more sustainable business practices, which could make a real difference for the islands, said Fernando Diez of Quasar Expeditions.
Diez explained that there are two ways tour operators, specifically those offering cruises, can operate more sustainably. The first, he said, is to offer longer itineraries, versus short two to three-day visits. An industry-wide shift toward extended itineraries would mean fewer tourists could visit the destination annually.
“The longest itinerary a cruise line can offer is seven nights, meaning less tourists can visit the Galapagos in a given year,” explained Diez. “Operators that run three, four- and five-night cruises bring a lot more people to the islands.”
Diez’s second recommendation to help the industry become more sustainable is to use smaller ships.
“Smaller boats mean not only fewer passengers but also fewer crew members,” Diez continued. “Large ships accommodate up to 100 passengers and 81 crew members. With numbers like these, resources are used quicker and more waste is created.”
Quasar Expeditions already a leader in sustainable small-ship cruises around the Galapagos Islands (they only offer seven-night itineraries on their yachts) has also recently announced its own new effort. The company will be launching an entirely carbon-neutral boat, the M/Y Conservation (18 passengers), in 2020.
“The M/Y Conservation will be the first Galapagos ship with a comprehensive sustainability plan, encompassing everything from design to daily operations, and will host scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation each week as they conduct research surrounding the impacts of introduced species and, of course, increased tourism,” said Diez.
And as for the travelers, they are ultimately the ones who can make the greatest impact, added Diez.
Travelers, he said, need to choose cruises over hotels, at least until hotel-based tourism becomes better regulated in Galapagos. They should also choose cruise companies and Galapagos hotels that have a solid conservation agenda in place.
“They need to do their homework beforehand and they need to book with those who will take their dollars a longer way, helping to reduce the footprint we leave in the Islands,” said Diez.