Tourism in the Galápagos
In 1978, the Galápagos Islands were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of their “outstanding value to humanity,” and today the archipelago is one of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations.
Tourism in the Galápagos has been developed using a low-impact model that provides significant economic benefits to Ecuador and the Galápagos National Park.
Popular tourism activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, whale watching and other wildlife viewing. Tourists enjoy up-close encounters with animals, which are completely at ease among human visitors.
IN DEPTH: Learn about the CI-supported Galápagos Trust Fund.
Growth and development in the tourism industry has resulted in a dramatic increase in visitors from about 41,000 in 1990 to more than 100,000 in 2005. Although the economic benefits are considerable, increased visitation to the islands threatens both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
The most serious threat to the delicate ecological balance of the Galápagos comes from the accidental and intentional introduction of non-native plants and animals, brought by tourists and other visitors from the mainland. Other serious threats from tourism include contamination from boat engines, oil spills, over-use of sites and over-exploitation of fresh water.
Illegal and excessive fishing has led to over-exploitation of sea cucumbers, sharks and lobsters. In addition, the substantial growth of tourism, especially in the past decade, has brought a rise in immigration from mainland Ecuadorians in search of economic opportunities created by tourism.
Despite immigration restrictions, a high cost of living and the limited land available for settlements (only three percent of the islands is unprotected), immigration continues.
Benefits for Business and Communities
Responsible marine tourism activities are critical to both preservation of the Galápagos’s unique ecosystems and the continued economic health of the archipelago’s tourism sector.
Adopting good practices can help protect the integrity of the unique landscapes, habitats and species that attract visitors in the first place and sustain the high-quality visitor experiences that will ensure the ongoing financial viability of tourism businesses.
Sustainable and responsible tourism development can also help maintain support for tourism among local coastal communities, by providing employment, income and higher levels of self-sufficiency, and conserving natural and cultural resources and heritage for future generations.
Good practices also make good business sense, as improved performance in these areas can enhance a tour operator’s reputation and recognition in a tourism marketplace that is increasingly showing a preference for responsible products and suppliers.
Improved performance can also contribute to more positive relationships with suppliers, staff and local communities, who are more likely to support operators that are conserving local environments and contributing to the well-being of local communities.