Interview with Diego
We were lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Diego just before the awards. He is such an inspiring man, read what he has to say about Ecuador, the awards and what winning means to him.
What does it mean when customers appreciate your hard work?
It’s very motivational, seeing how travelling in Ecuador can be such an inspirational journey for them. They often come thinking that the Galapagos are going to be the main highlight, but I love showing them the unexpected side of the mainland of Ecuador. My passion for the country is my inspiration for showing what it has to offer, so hearing that mainland Ecuador is so much more than what they expected is what means the most to me.
Ecuador doesn’t do a huge amount to promote itself so it is still very much an unspoilt country. There is no mass tourism so the groups I lead can really have the contact with the locals that Explore tours are all about. Some of the people we visit are fascinated by the group as much as the group are with them!
I love to show my groups the ‘real’ Ecuador, not just the tourist side. This is what I truly believe so I fit perfectly with the Explore concept of getting to the heart of a country. Being able to do this and show customers aswell is what means so much to me.
What has the reaction been in Ecuador to your nomination for this award?
Of course the media and everyone in Ecuador would love it if I was to win first place, but just being in the final and representing Ecuador means so much to everyone already, it makes them very happy! For the last two weeks I have been headline news on TV, radio and in the press, which gave me a bit of stage fright at first!
Ecuador as a country has low self esteem and national achievements mean so much. For example, making it to the last two football world cups has built a belief in the people of Ecuador that we can achieve great things and my nomination for this award has a similar effect. Seeing that we can go beyond our borders and being seen on the same level as other countries gives proof to everyone that they can make it too. It strengthens the national spirit which I why I think I’ve made such headline news at home.
Are you hoping to use this recognition to highlight the Responsible Tourism issues you’re so passionate about?
This is a great opportunity to make people at home aware of how much we have to offer in Ecuador, how appreciated the country is by our guests and how proud they should be – this is my chance to pass my passion to others.
Ecuador has such fragile ecosystems and protecting them and RT as a whole is a relatively new concept there so I really appreciate the chance to make people more aware. The Ministry of Tourism is taking it on and recognise that community based tourism is great for the country and it’s really taken off. My comments as someone who works with visitors to Ecuador will help ensure people take it seriously and not just see it as a marketing gimmick. I am working with the Quito Tourist Board to discuss the issues and share ideas. I have first hand knowledge of what people want from Ecuador and how precious they see our country as being and that is invaluable.
What has been your favourite moment as an Explore Tour Leader?
That’s difficult to narrow down! I enjoy every moment as the Explore concept is exactly what I believe tourism should be. I love how Explore have given me the chance to give my views on RT and every other aspect of your tours to the country and how you have been so flexible when building itineraries. It’s so inspiring to see things I have suggested become part of the itinerary.
I love that every day on tour is totally different due to the diversity of the country. The contrasts really amaze guests – the differences in temperature, altitude, scenery and vegetation never fail to surprise them!
One of my highlights on tour is always when we spot a condor. They are very endangered in Ecuador with only around 70 left in the country so seeing one is a special experience. People in the group often break down in tears when we do spot one as they know what a rare experience it is and I still get excited every time I see one too!
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you would offer to those visiting Ecuador?
Be prepared for the differences in temperature! Although Ecuador is a tropical country we have experienced temperatures from 4deg to 25deg in the same day! People find it very strange, but that is just one of the wonders of Ecuador.
What does winning the award mean to you?
Being nominated is the result of my passion for my work and my country. Just being here is my prize. I’m so excited to be in the UK, visit the Explore office and see how different the UK is from Ecuador. Just being at the ceremony is a huge honour for me. This is only my third time abroad, having previously visited England and Peru, so I am just enjoying every moment.
I don’t aim to better than everyone else, I just want to do the best I possibly can and give guests more than they expect from Ecuador and Explore. That is what I aim for.
How do you become a tour guide in Ecuador?
Being a tour guide in Ecuador is taken very seriously, you have to go to university to qualify. I spent six years at uni, four years doing Tourism and Business Administration and 2 years doing a Masters in Ecotourism.
I started as a guide at 19 after my first two years of training and led my first Explore tour at the age of 21. I looked very young and I think at first the guests were a little shocked but they soon grew confidence in me and forgot how young I looked!
Have you ever faced any scary moments on tour?
I’ve faced some shocking and scary moments while on tour, but I think these are the times when I can really prove my worth as a tour leader. I always stay calm and resolve the situation, giving my passengers the confidence to carry on, whatever may have happened. There was one time when nine of us were crossing what was a very sturdy bridge about 3 metres above a ravine and it just collapsed with no warning. While everyone else was trying to figure out what had happened and were trying to pick themselves up, I made sure there were no serious injuries, then ran as fast as I could to get help for my group. It only hit me two hours later after my entire group was safe and treated for minor injuries how much my legs hurt. I went into survival mode I think and didn’t realise that I was hurt too.
If you could go on a tour anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would love to see more of the world myself. I want to visit Costa Rica as it has very similar eco-systems to Ecuador, but they’re more advanced in tourism development and I would love to see how they do it and help apply it in Ecuador. Secondly I’d love to head to Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Greece. I really want to meet the people, experience the culture and see the ancient sites in these countries.
I just want to say you’re all more than welcome to come and visit Ecuador, I would love to show you around and want you to know you will always have a friend in Ecuador.