National Park system of awarding tourism concessions upheld by Supreme Court

Last week, in its decision over a challenge by Alfredo Ortiz (member of legislative assembly for Galapagos) on the legitimacy of the Galapagos National Park tourism concession process, the Ecuadorian Supreme Court came down in favour of the Galapagos National Park.  This is a huge success for orderly and transparent tourism management in Galapagos.

In an effort to clean up the tourism concessions process in Galapagos, new regulations had been adopted with the intention of giving everybody a fair chance at obtaining the right to operate tourism activities in the islands, with a particular focus on ship based tourism.   This includes cruise ships, but also the operation of inter-island transport, day trips and bay tours.    One provision of the regulations was designed to reduce the accumulation of concessions within one family, in an effort to spread the tourism wealth, so to speak.  Another provision gave a cut-off date of 1998 as the last year new ships operating in Galapagos would be formally recognized as being legitimate.   In 1998, the Galapagos Special Law was passed, regulating the introduction of new tourism ships in Galapagos.

Mr. Ortiz introduced the King Marine, a tourist class ship designed for day tours, to the Galapagos in 1999 - after the 1998 cut-off date.   He failed to obtain a permit to operate his ship based on this fact.  He took the Park to court on its decisions.   The first court hearing reversed the Park's decision, but subsequent appeals, all the way to the Supreme Court, finally vindicated the Park.     The King Marine has also been involved in thinly veiled sports fishing activities in Galapagos, a practice that is not explicitly permitted.

CNH Tours is very pleased to see that the law in Ecuador was upheld to the very end.   Mr. Ortiz, known for his populism and strong man tactics, was attempting to sow chaos and uncertainty into a well designed and implemented tourism management policy, and in so doing, intended on acquiring the right to operate his ship.     Such tactics are precisely those that have led to set-backs in the government's attempts at ensuring good tourism management in the islands.   The Supreme Court's decision should put this issue to rest once and for all.

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