As the world starts to adjust to a new normality, we have adapted the way we do most of our everyday activities. Today, after 67 years of leading the tourism industry in Ecuador and South America, we face our biggest challenge yet: restarting operations while maintaining both our client’s and staff’s health and safety. While navigating this challenge, it is clear that our efforts to resume traveling need to be collective. We want the experiences we offer to keep inspiring people while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
This challenge has required the retailoring of each process throughout our client’s entire travel experience in Ecuador: domestic flights, ground transportation, accommodations at both land and sea, activities, visiting sites, food, beverages, and so on. Each service provider must take on new duties: learning how to evaluate and identify health risks that can pose a danger to travelers. Protocols and procedures that are required to reduce the risk of contagion along every step of the operation rely heavily on the collaboration of airports and airlines, ground transportation providers, hotels, restaurants, and their personnel in the destinations we offer.
For explorers to feel that their experience is safe, they must also acknowledge their share of responsibility when it comes to evaluating potential risks to both their health and everyone else involved in their journey.
We have come up with a risk assessment approach that will allow us to keep traveling to iconic destinations safely while preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
The following principles guide this roadmap:
- Health and safety
- Physical distancing
Taking these three principles into consideration, we’ve come up with the following resolutions:
- We have made the necessary adjustments in our products to provide even more ample spaces for them to comply (if not exceed) with universally accepted recommendations.
- All standard custodial and hygienic procedures will include the latest outcome-based technology and know-how while maintaining our environmental responsibility —for instance, sanitization based on UV filters, the use of ozone-cleaning systems, and so on.
- Necessary steps during the travel process shall be taken care of prior to departure rather than on arrival. Health screening measures should be implemented to ensure that passengers have the required clearance to travel between destinations.
- We’re overseeing that all the partner hotels, restaurants, ground transportation services, airlines, and airports included in our regular operations count with their own health and safety protocols, distancing measures, and a rigorous observation process of environment-friendly actions.
- The protocols we had before the COVID-19 outbreak in distancing, health and safety, and environmental preservation have been fine-tuned, enhanced, or kept untouched under the new circumstances. Some new measures should only be in place for as long as deemed necessary, while other adjustments may well become a new norm.
The tourism industry is vital in places like the Galapagos Islands, especially in consideration of the great work that is undertaken by the Galapagos National Park (GNP). Recovering from the economic impact that has been experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge that needs to be faced. For the GNP to continue monitoring the Galapagos Marine Reserve, sponsoring various scientific research projects, eradicating invasive species, and restoring the populations of endangered fauna, they need the resources provided by tourism. Given this, everyone involved in the tourism industry is working towards rebuilding travelers’ confidence and sense of security in sanctuary destinations like the Galapagos Islands.
If we truly believe in the sustainability of our tourism model, we must be ready to do everything we can to help the traveling experience recover from the significant hit of this pandemic. Part of that process begins with recognizing and embracing the power of travel and its ability to inspire people, from all over the world, while actively contributing to the conservation of the destination.
Main adjustments in the travel stages of Metropolitan Touring’s explorers
- Domestic flights
- Ground transportation
- Restaurants in general
- Visiting sites
As per current information, airports involved in our services are implementing screening processes to ensure that only COVID19-free personnel and passengers access their terminals. They will observe all IATA guidelines regarding international biosafety protocols. For example, they’re evaluating to provide airport staff with approved personal protective equipment (PPE).
Electronic, contact-free procedures will be prioritized to replace current formalities, and personal interactions will be limited to the strictly necessary. To guarantee physical distance, waiting areas, counters, and screening points are undergoing adjustments.
Our vehicles and the staff involved in transportation (guides, luggage-handling staff, and drivers) will be subject to an updated set of protocols that include: always providing our guests with hand sanitizers, using personal protective equipment (PPE), adjusting our available spaces to guarantee recommended spacing, and so on. All staff will be subject to regular health screening via checkups, and vehicles will be subject to regular, rigorous disinfection protocols. As an added measure, luggage will be handled by a separate team traveling in support vehicles.
As for our transfer vehicles, even though they already have limited and low capacity, we will maximize our guest’s personal space during transportation or visits.
Medical officers aboard our vessels will have an even more vital role to play while resuming operations. Their medical knowledge will be key in the screening of crewmembers and passengers upon boarding the ship, as well as supervising the proper use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). They will also make sure that hand sanitizers and disinfectants are available for guests at all times and monitor the use of additional, novel gear and environment-friendly chemicals to be implemented during this COVID-19 period.
Personal space for guests and crew in public areas will be increased by enabling separate shifts for all meals, scheduling disembarkation processes, and consequently boarding of groups. The ample space we had available before COVID-19 will be raised much above the conventionally accepted minimum of 28.3 sq ft (6-foot radius around each person).
|Vessel area||Average personal space (in sq. ft per guest)||Compared to the recommended 28.26sq ft per guest|
|Cabins||between 68.7 and 161.9||between 2.4 and 5.7 times|
|Dining areas||average 39.6||1.5 times|
|Lecture and briefing areas||average 43.8||1.6 times|
We will continue to operate with a reduced guest to guide ratio (11.2 guests for every guide) in the Galapagos Islands.
Our inflatable crafts (dinghies) are cleared for a specific number of passengers; nevertheless, we’ve always used this equipment bellow the maximum recommended capacity. Taking this into consideration, tailoring the occupancy to current needs has not been a challenge for us. Our occupancy exceeds the recommended space allowance during operation and will enable physical distancing during transportation and activities.
The numerous team members at each of our hotels (Casa Gangotena, Mashpi Lodge, and the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel) will participate in a strict screening process upon entering each facility. In addition to this, they’ll be undergoing medical evaluations at regular intervals. Proper physical distancing, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks, and gloves will be standard. Each hotel’s dining and bar areas will have proper disinfection stations for our guests. Also, since the focus of our products has always been oriented towards boutique, non-massive facilities, ample spaces are guaranteed. Ventilation systems will incorporate ultraviolet filters and ozone-based cleaning equipment. Along with this, personnel will be trained in the proper use of handheld screening devices.
It is important to note that each of these new additional and essential processes carries the environmental seal of approval for use in natural settings that are highly sensitive, like the Chocó Bioregion and the Galapagos Islands.
Restaurants in general
À la carte meals will replace buffets, making for a safer option while ensuring timely delivery. Personal space between tables and among users will be guaranteed. To minimize direct contact, our staff will adhere to the proper use of PPE, hand sanitizers, and physical distancing measures. As an additional feature, we will offer room service in our hotels and encourage our guests to opt for it.
Metropolitan Touring hotel’s dining areas provide a personal space ratio 1.8 times higher than the international suggested a minimum of 28.3 sq ft per guest. Thus, physical distancing lies above 51.4 sq ft per guest.
We will oversee that partner restaurants also comply with this figure and other COVID-19 biosafety protocols we endorse.
Visiting sites and attractions
All our visiting sites are part of well-preserved sanctuary destinations that comply or exceed with the recommended distancing norms and standards. For example, in the Galapagos Islands, according to National Park rules, visiting sites can’t exceed a total of 16 guests per guide and six groups at a time. In Mashpi, we will continue to operate with an average rate of 4 guests per guide during activities. Also, during our land tours, we will continue to avoid tourist traps and overcrowded visiting sites.
Enclosed visiting sites we regularly use are undergoing their own set of disinfection and distancing measures before we approve of its use.
We believe that enhancing our already existing protocols and incorporating new ones according to the situation we’re currently facing will help us mitigate biosafety risks. We also know that there’s no definitive measure that can be implemented to lessen these biosafety risks completely, that’s why we will continue to monitor the situation closely and readjust anything we need to for the sake of our guests and staff’s safety.
Of course, these procedures will likely be modified as needed, as we continue to learn from and adapt to the challenges faced in mitigating the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As we work to improve our process, we hope to greatly reduce risk wherever possible and further nurture confidence in expedition travel.
Metropolitan Touring’s final goal is to create a safety corridor, in which our guests can arrive and depart, in all the destinations we offer. We want our guests to feel safe and confident from the moment their trip starts until they’re back home, reminiscing about the experience they just had with us.