We speak to Niels Olsen, Ecuador’s recently appointed Minister for Tourism and owner of
the delightful Hacienda La Danesa.
Your family owns a farm in the west of Ecuador, tell us about the wonderful Hacienda La Danesa.
Sure! Hacienda La Danesa is my home. I was raised at the farm and ever since I was a teenager I would joke with my parents that I wanted to make our home a hotel. We grow cacao and make our own chocolate, we grow our own teak trees and we make our own furniture, we produce milk and produce our own Dulce de Leche! There are a lot of things are happening at the hacienda. About three years ago we started designing and building cottages for our guests, and we’re now super proud of what we have created. In the next few months we will be opening the new farm-to-table restaurant with a local creative chef and a reading room for our guests to enjoy after going horse riding, river tubing or having a massage.
Which are your other favourite parts of the country?
Tough question! Not that I am biased – and I know you agree with me – but Ecuador is a truly unique and beautiful country. Last week I was in Cuenca and wow, there are so many beautiful small hotels and new restaurants with excellent local cuisine. The architecture is out of this world. ‘Cuencanos’ are very hospitable and charming. Quito and its new wave of young chefs is bringing Ecuador’s culinary scene to another level and I am sure we will soon be a foodie’s must go destination. On the other hand, Guayaquil with its laid back “rolled up sleeves” ambiance, and street food is creating a cool subculture. Ecuador is a diverse country so it is hard to have ‘favourites’. I love the wildlife in the Amazon rainforest and the Galápagos Islands, and the beautiful farms dotted all over the country. Lately, I’ve been having a thing for Ayampe, a small, super-hip community by the beach in Manabi that serves incredible fresh seafood.
Can you give us a current overview of the local situation, in terms of case numbers, vaccination progress, tourism numbers and protocols on the ground?
We are vaccinating at full speed. By August, the whole hospitality industry will be fully vaccinated and Ecuador will become the first country in South America to have vaccinated the hospitality staff. By November, we aim to have over 80% of the Ecuadorian population vaccinated. I have been traveling all over the country and I am incredibly impressed by the amazing job the private sector is doing implementing the safety protocols. Regarding tourism numbers, the American market is recovering at a safe speed and occupation levels at hotels and cruises are rising. The UK market is taking a bit longer due to the travel restrictions and we hope to move from red to green once our vaccination numbers reach a good level.
How well do you feel Ecuador and the Galapagos score on sustainability, and how can it improve?
Galapagos National Park has been doing a great job protecting the islands. Overall it has a positive score, but there is always room for improvement. We need to work on the supply chain to improve the archipelago’s economy and infrastructure on the islands for the locals such as full service hospitals and schools. On the tourism side, we need to bring the yield up and focus on quality over quantity, and this replicated to mainland Ecuador as well. For me, it is all about using tourism as a vehicle for conservation.
Ecologically, what is the greatest threat currently facing Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Honestly, the biggest threat is us humans. We need to work on our habits and start making better decisions on what we eat, how we commute, how we treat our garbage and, most importantly, how we travel. We need to make sure travellers’ demands for better sustainability practices are met; and resolve important issues, such as employment for local communities; fair price buying policies; fair salaries; gender equality, etc.
What do you never travel without?
Airpods and a good playlist on Spotify!
Where will the Olsen family be going on holiday the moment global travel has returned?
My wife, baby, dogs and I are now traveling domestically, specially to the countryside and to this cool beach community, Ayampe, in Manabi. My wife is pregnant with our second child and is due in November. We will probably stay quiet for a bit before we embark on our first trip as a family of four. I would love that to be Antarctica but, of course, this will be a big no from my wife unless we leave the babies at home. Maybe we will leave Antarctica after 4 years once I have finished my service for my country as the Minister of Tourism… in the meantime, Ecuador it is!
Where are you happiest?
At the hacienda hanging out with my family, horses and dogs. Disconnecting and just being present. Greeting the hacienda guests, having a glass of wine and sharing travel stories. That’s a luxury that it has been difficult to have with my new job but at least I get to enjoy on Sundays.
For those travelling to Ecuador for the first time, what book should they read and what piece of music should they listen to?
Favorite artists from Ecuador Luz Pinos, Camila Perez and Ceci Juno!
Cockfight from Maria Fernanda Ampuero with really good and interesting stories.