Tren Ecuador is the commercial brand of the Ecuadorian Railway Company. Through its one-day expeditions and the 4 day- 3 night Tren Crucero Luxury Experience tours it seeks to provide a unique and authentic experience of Ecuador’s diverse cultural and natural heritage by engaging local communities that offer tourist services along the routes.
For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Ana García, General Manager at Tren Ecuador.
Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?
Ana: We do so to our clients in every scheduled and/or chartered operation. Since our strategic allies are the main part of the tourist experience offered by Tren Ecuador, they are also the highlight and protagonists of every package tour. Along the trip our guides explain the community based initiatives, enhance the exchanges between the tourists and the local community, and explain how the income from the tourists goes to the community and how it is split and spent, and how the tourists’ custom helps improve other people’s lives.
Through our website’s social responsibility page, clients and trade partners can find not just our mission statement but also detailed information about our strategical allies and how to buy their products, and how traveling with Tren Ecuador helps sustain these local economies and support poverty reduction.
“The real luxury we are offering is the opportunity to interact in a meaningful manner with locals who are partnering with us as equals, owners of their businesses and proud ambassadors of their culture.”
Every year we release our Social Accountability and Transparency report, which highlights our social responsibility strategy and results. We present the report publicly in four cities, print 500 issues that are disseminated to press, general public and academic institutions, and also make it available online.
We also stress the importance of our poverty-reduction strategy with potential and established trade partners. We have created two guidebooks explaining our approach and these manuals are available for companies wanting to work with us but also to increase their own social responsibility with other partners.
Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?
Ana: The biggest challenge for is engaging our audience into taking meaningful action towards sustainability back home – in other words going the extra step beyond acknowledging our efforts and instead effect change themselves back home.
Anula: How do you engage local community in what you do?
Ana: Local communities are the main part of our product. They offer ancillary services and are engaged through contracts so they are a permanent part of our operation.
Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?
Ana: Many of our suppliers are from local communities themselves. In other cases, when we need to reach commercial agreements with private companies, they are required by contract to involve a certain percentage of local workers and suppliers.
In the case of the distribution channels, our sales pitch is focused on the community involvement as the most meaningful part of the whole experience, and they are encouraged to do the same with their clients. Pictures and content are made available to them to support the spreading of information.
Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach?
Ana: The focus of our marketing strategy is on the human experience, the chance of getting to know real people in real communities with different cultures. For a niche market such as luxury train tours, this is quite unique.
We created the concept “The Luxury Experience” to highlight the fact that the real luxury we are offering is the opportunity to interact in a meaningful manner with locals who are partnering with us as equals, owners of their businesses and proud ambassadors of their culture.
The authenticity of the experience, and the fact that we highlight it over the luxury of the accommodation is, in our point of view, what makes us unique in the sector.
Anula: What have you learned about marketing so far, what works and what doesn’t?
Ana: We found that niche, specialist travel agents focusing on culture and nature-based experiences are what work best for us for the direct contact they have with their clients.
Webinars, and face to face relationship with travel agents are very effective, helping them learn to love the product so they can in turn improve their sales pitch and offer a true experience to their clients. Brochures and rates alone don’t work for a product like ours.
Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?
Ana: After six or seven years of operation we felt we already had a solid, evidence-based case for applying and we want to share our experience, based on a different business model for responsible travel.
Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?
Ana: Just being shortlisted has helped boost the conversation about responsible travel and poverty reduction in tourism at country level. Obviously with a win the conversation will spread even wider, and we hope it will help us involve more stakeholders.
This article is part of the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.