Improving tourist services in Galapagos
Many tourists come to visit Galapagos every year, spending significant amount of money in order to enjoy the wildlife, landscapes, beaches and many activities offered (scuba diving, surfing, etc.)
A major part of the experience of a tourist is the treatment given by the different service providers, and with what feeling the tourist ends each day here. This many times surpasses the animals being seen or the climate, no matter how good they are. Unfortunately, too many times, in my personal experience and of many others, the service providers do not treat tourists well, leaving them with sour feelings. This caused me and others use less services offered, join less tours and enjoy less activities. And ultimately, it makes it harder to recommend friends and family to visit the islands too. On Santa Cruz, looking for a place to sleep, the owner didn't like that we asked questions and later wanted to keep searching for more options. The response to our last question was sending us away with her arms (in a "go f... yourself" gesture) turning away from us. Another hostel couldn't give what was promised (there was no hot water, no air conditioning, the internet did not work) and sharing it with the manager brought nothing but more desperation (Responses like "Sometimes no hot water left" and "The internet is working right now" were said in a ignorant tone). In another hostel the manager insisted that “it's okay” for our friend to stay in a room that cannot be locked, and only after a long argument "he did him a favor" changing his room. On Isabela Island, the first person we have talked to, an old lady managing an hostel, lied to us. She sent us to one of the most expensive and luxury hotels claiming they offer 5$ beds after we asked her for another hostel that might offer us cheaper prices than her hostel. The day after, we rented bicycles for the day and after an hour the chain of one bicycle broke (it didn't fall, it broke). That made us all carry all bicycles without enjoying them during the day, which of course made us lose a lot of time and miss activities on the island. The agency insisted that it's not its fault, that it was an accident and the bicycles are in a good condition. When tourists (or any other type of customers) feel that they didn't get an appropriate service, they expect to hear first only one specific sentence: "I'm sorry". They want to feel some sympathy for their disappointment. The second things they expect to hear is "What can I do to make you feel better? would you like a refund or another service?". Excuses, insisting that everythings is okay and ignoring are not to be said. Many times service providers would not give important information. Agencies would not bother to share the fact that getting to Isabela Island from Santa Cruz would cost more than 20% more, requiring the travelers to take out their wallets 3 times more during the trip, paying for 2 water taxis and dock taxes. I haven't seen many smiles in the entrance to the Island.
(The dock in Isabela, 5$ are charged upon stepping it, a surprising welcome gift to many tourists) Every person I have talked with about this issue (I have talked with many, usually young solo travellers or couples) could identify with it. For example, one german girl spending a week on the island, shared with me that out of all places she stayed in the islands, she liked only one hostel (describing all other hostel owners as "creepy"). One dutch girl took a tour where the tour guide was interested in her, making her feel so uncomfortable that later in the city she had to run away to the hostel upon seeing him from afar, making sure she won't have to face him. Every service provider I have talked with about this issue could identify with it. For example, a tour guide sharing with me that other guides shout at the tourists things like "You must follow my orders!", or a person in one agency telling me that she heard about this issue from so many people, and she suggested me not to take some specific tour because she knew that they are not going to do best, and I better save myself the disappointment. And all of these are just a few examples, of many others we personally experienced and of many others that we heard from other tourists. Those seem to happen all around Galapagos and are not associated with one specific place. We could not find even one tourist that could claim that s/he is pleased with the services provided on the island. The issue comes from the fact that many of the service providers are not educated to work in tourism (usually they are locals coming from different professions, as fishing and agriculture), and do not have the sufficient experience. It seems that the government is aware to this issue because it gives a few free hours of lectures about tourism every year to those businesses, and it tries to get feedback from tourists. But a follow-up is missing, the feedback system is not tight, and tourists are not well involved in it. A good example of the gap is a feedback box given to all service providers, which I have seen for the first time in one hostel only after more than a week in the island:
A feedback form is given to tourists when they enter the island:
The form does not request information about services as hostels, agencies, restaurants etc., and is way too general (only a rating number can be marked, without any further information of incidents and business names), and many tourists simply lose it until they leave the island. In order to make the services on the island better, I believe that more hours of education should be given to the providers, a tighter and more specific feedback system should be used with an active effort to engage the tourists to take part of it. This could be done by:
- Enforcing that hostels and agencies locate the feedback box in a very visible location. - Encourage the tourists to use it and tell about their experiences. Many of them are "too polite" and the only people they would share their experiences with will be their friends and family. A good example is Amazon, that writes at the end of each mail: "Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company". An introduction to the system should be given to the tourists upon entering the islands, asking for their help, and another feedback form should be given upon leaving. - Following-up with specific providers getting complains, making sure the relevant lessons were learned.
Tourism in Galapagos islands is still in its infancy, and by keeping the effort of improving the services provided on the islands, a very bright future is waiting for it.
My name is Itay, from Israel. I am a programmer that currently traveling America as a backpacker. I enjoy sports, traveling, meeting people and technology. I came to Galapagos from the southern part of the continent looking forward to continue north!