Travel now and save the world!
Author: Beate Zwermann Frankfurt, 22 February 2021
Germany is drowning in opinion chaos, approval of the lockdown measures is collapsing. Even after eleven months of the pandemic, the German government is without a master plan to reopen the world. Vaccinations are making slow progress. We look longingly to Israel, Great Britain and the USA. The first prime ministers want to cancel their Easter holidays and speculate about Whitsun and the summer. Meanwhile, the Robert Koch Institute is just now publishing a study from the summer of 2020 that shows that package tours were not a pandemic driver. The much-discussed travellers with high incidence rates are rather guest workers from Eastern Europe and the Balkan states in the health care system, meat producers, etc. Does the RKI want to pave the way for the travel industry to start up again?
One thing is clear: the travel industry urgently needs a perspective. People in Germany want to travel. It must be possible again from Easter.
Since September 2020, Germans have been travelling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands again. How is that possible?
Ecuador has implemented a simple but effective pandemic strategy: From mid-March to the end of June 2020, the country was in a very tough lockdown with curfews, alcohol bans, etc. The country is already under a strict masking obligation. A strict mask requirement has been in place throughout the country since the end of March 2020. The government used the time of the lockdown to develop a hygiene concept, which was introduced in all areas of life in mid-May and is still in force today. Since June, the implementation has been permanently monitored. This enabled the country to gradually reopen from July 2020. In August, international travel began – as before, mainly by air. The borders with Peru and Colombia are still closed to travel. Since August, it has already been compulsory to enter the country with a negative PCR test. Those who come without must be quarantined in designated hotels. The regulations are simple, the same for everyone and easy to understand. That is the basis of success.
So there were and are no other waves?
After the first big wave in the metropolitan area of the port city of Guayaquil and the second wave around the megacity of Quito in the summer, there are always surges, I would call them ripples, which have to do with holidays, the current elections and holiday periods. The government then tightens controls, restricts freedom of movement via driving bans, etc., but the country is no longer closed. In Ecuador, people are convinced that they can live with the virus and have it under control with the measures taken.
How does Ecuador arrive at such a different strategy from Europe?
Ecuador is taking its cue from South Korea and China. Although a group of representatives from the RKI visited the country in the summer of 2020 and the Ecuadorian health minister was a guest at the Charité in Berlin, its pandemic strategy has not changed. Since the summer, rapid tests have been permitted in Ecuador, which can be taken when checking into hotels or before domestic flights, for example. The government protects the Galapagos Islands with an additional PCR test for all entrants, and the island population is continuously sent for mass testing.
Is vaccination already taking place in Ecuador?
Yes, since the end of January. The country has ordered 18 million vaccine doses for this year, the majority from Biontech/Pfizer.
In Germany, there is still a travel warning for Ecuador, so don’t tour operators have to cancel trips?
Until the pandemic, that was the case, yes. Now our customers book and travel despite the travel warning. It has thus lost its function and value because, like the virus, it has become political. Ecuador is a good example of this: until November 2020, the pages of the German Foreign Office stated that Ecuador’s borders were closed in principle. This was only changed after I complained to the German embassy in Quito. They are actively hindering the recovery of a country because they don’t want us Germans to travel. This is no trivial offence. At the turn of the year, I had to intervene again when many countries closed their doors to Europeans because of the mutants and imposed quarantines upon entry. This was then also very quickly posted on the AA for Ecuador. In fact, however, Ecuador only introduced a rapid test on arrival. I was able to correct that as well. The embassy’s latest prank is to classify the country as a high-incidence risk area. For just one week, Ecuador was at over 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. I am happy to provide evidence of what has been said here. By the way, Ecuador is not a risk area according to the classification in Switzerland and Austria.
What consequences does this classification have for your travellers?
Almost none, because the Foreign Office cannot ban travel. Return travellers now need a negative Covid 19 test, which must not be older than 48 hours. Since the airlines already link transport to negative test results, sometimes in combination with rapid tests, this is ultimately a farce because it is already required beforehand. The testing facilities in Ecuador are very good. The new measures mean that our clients spend a night in Quito or Guayaquil before returning home to take the PCR test. When they arrive in Germany, they go into quarantine – if they don’t live in North Rhine-Westphalia, another curiosity in these times.
The German government is asking people to stay at home and refrain from tourist travel. Are you calling for civil disobedience here?
No, I am fulfilling travel dreams and helping people in Ecuador to survive economically. The RKI has just published a study on travellers returning to Ecuador in the summer of 2020. It proves that organised travel is not a pandemic driver. Those who travel today prepare well. My clients go into isolation days in advance because they don’t want a surprise at the PCR test. So air travellers are travelling in a bubble and still wearing masks on board.
What will happen with the travel warnings?
I assume that the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 and the disease Covid-19 will soon disappear from the travel warnings altogether. There are no warnings about influenza either, and Sars-CoV-2 will continue to exist everywhere in the world. The focus will return to regional specifics, such as yellow fever and malaria.
What happens if your clients get infected in Ecuador?
We recommend that our guests take out Corona travel insurance. This covers all complications around a positive Covid-19 test and quarantines. In principle, Covid-19 is a disease like any other. Ecuador requires proof of private health
insurance for entry into the country. This means that in case of illness, guests have access to the country’s private medical system, which is considered comparable to Germany. Finally, our guests can rely on our local staff. They assist in choosing a doctor, interpret if necessary and accompany if required.
What will happen in the next few weeks?
That depends very much on the vaccinations in Germany. Many of our clients have postponed their trip from 2020 to this year and would also travel from April if they were vaccinated. Unfortunately, however, the vaccination process is making slow progress. We are in close contact with our partners in Ecuador and the airlines. If things do go faster, we are very flexible. I would also like to see more flexibility from the federal government. How about an appointment portal for citizens, who can always get their turn when vaccine doses are left over? That could be done via Eventim, as practised in NRW. I and my clients would be on board immediately.
So you’ll be travelling again from April/May?
Clients are also travelling with us in Ecuador now, since September 2020, albeit at a low level. We had a lot of last-minute bookings in January and February 2021. I am currently planning a promotional campaign for Easter 2021. The Galapagos ships are currently cheaper than ever before, and Galapagos is simply beautiful. Car rental tours on the mainland are also possible. The reports from our clients are great.
You wrote a diary and ended the project in September because you saw light at the end of the tunnel. Is that still true today?
Yes, absolutely. I was in Ecuador myself in August 2020 to see the situation. What I saw convinced me. We must not forget one thing: The lockdown is also happening in our heads. Most people lack the idea of normality. That’s where the lack of perspective of the federal government hits like a sledgehammer. In fact, however, there are many countries that cannot supposedly pull out the bazooka and calm things down with money. These countries have a plan. In many places, living with the virus, therefore, works better than it does here.
In an interview with Zeit magazine, you said that the pandemic has politicised you. Have you already joined a party?
No, and it won’t come to that. What we have been experiencing for eleven months has sobered me up a lot. Just two years ago I said there was no better place than Germany. But especially the way the federal government is dealing with us entrepreneurs in the crisis is completely unacceptable to me. You feel like a coffee machine that you turn on and off. Unbelievable. Communication is a mess, beyond all reason. This is no longer my country.
I will use my powers even more for Ecuador. I am already applying for citizenship and would like to become an honorary consul. I will also use my journalistic contacts to ensure that the country gets more attention. After I took President Steinmeier on a tour of the Galapagos Islands in February 2019, I suggested that he set up an economic committee to promote Ecuador. This already exists in many countries. Steinmeier referred me to the Foreign Office at the time and also made contact. Since then, I have never heard anything more about it. It’s time for me to get going. If
I can even change travel warnings, why not think bigger? Here’s to what’s to come!
Frankfurt, 22 February 2021