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All over the world small, medium and larger businesses fall victim to the Covid-19 crisis. Also our small and cozy hotel Doña Esther in the northern highlands of Ecuador. We somehow kept it going for seven months now, but have reached our limit and feel obliged to do something, for our hotel, the people who work for us and our guests.
Who are we?
Hotel Doña Esther is a small hotel in the Andean town of Otavalo in Northern Ecuador. A place that for centuries attracts visitors from all over the world, mainly for its famous Indigenous handicraft market. But also for its natural attractions, hidden in the green province of Imbabura.
Hotel Doña Esther has a long history. It was one of the first hotels in Otavalo (operating for more than 150 years now). In 2003, we, the current Dutch owners, had the honor to take over the hotel. Our names: Wendy van Driel & Arthur van den Elzen. We are Dutch and
living in Latin America since 1994. Initially we worked in social projects in Ecuador and Guatemala. After a few years together, our daughter Lisa was born, making us a family of three.
After the projects ended, we decided to stay on the American continent and returned from Guatemala to Ecuador in 2003.
A part of our staff and us a few years back
Taking over a hotel & restaurant
Back in Ecuador we found this small hotel for sale in Otavalo, fell in love and decided to buy it with the help of family and friends. In 17.5 years we managed to turn Doña Esther and its restaurant into a successful business. This despite the fact that Ecuador never really was a famous tourist destination. Through the years we received several travel awards, like recently the Tripadvisor Traveler’s Award 2020.
From the get-go we worked with a local staff. Ordinary people looking for a job; we hired and trained them to our vision in the hotel, the restaurant and the kitchen. They learned from us, but we also learned from them about local cuisine and products.
When we were forced to close the hotel – on March 16, 2020 – we worked with seven local employees, five women and two men. A team that we have been working with for years. Resulting in feeling a bit like family. For us, for them, as well as for many of our guests.
In short, business was fine before this happened. We were aiming for a good year.
And then Covid-19 came along
From the start of this pandemic, we have done our utmost to keep our hotel afloat. Although we knew we would have to stay closed for at least a few months after the mandatory closure in March, we made the decision not to fire anyone. Nor to take our people out of health insurance.
A well-considered decision, but as a consequence our expenses are high, while we have no income. (Every month we provided our staff with a reduced basic wage, paid their insurance, and in addition had to pay operational costs (water, light, taxes, permits!). Initially, we managed to cover these expenses by drawing on our own reserves & several loans.
But now, after seven months, we find ourselves in financial straits. To such an extent that we fear that, if we don’t act now, we will have to close the doors permanently at the end of this year or early next year. Covid-19 simply takes too long and we could never have estimated that.
Based on that reality, we first consulted the government authorities for relief, but without success. Nearly half a million people got fired in Ecuador, the estimation is that 30-50% of small businesses in tourism will have closed at the end of this pandemic.
As of 1 July 2020 we opened again for three days a week, but so far it’s been difficult because we currently depend on a fairly small group of national tourists that we have to share with too many colleagues. Many Ecuadorians still prefer to stay indoors.
On the other hand, Ecuador opened up quite quickly to international visitors, but the people who traveled, decided to stay in their home countries or nearby.
Contrary to what we hoped, precisely in the countries where most of our visitors come from (the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, France, UK, Switzerland, Australia & others) there’s currently a significant increase in cases. As a result, that door will remain locked for the time being.
Although at the beginning of 2021 tourism may be a bit on the rise - partly depending of course on a vaccine - the general expectation of the tourism industry is that we can only expect more visitors in the second or third quarter of 2021.
Our restaurant in better times
Asking for your support
That is still a long time to go. Too long to survive as a small business. To save our hotel & staff we must build a financial bridge to better times.
Based on this wish, we ask you to support us to save our hotel & restaurant, so that our staff can keep working and our guests, you, can come back to us in the near future.
If we manage to pay costs such as health insurance, wages and taxes, we will be heading in the right direction.
To a better future
In all these years we received thousands of guests. People from all over the world that enjoyed their time with us. As hotel guests or visitors of our restaurant. Our main goal always was and is to be remembered. We think… No, we know for sure, that we and our staff reached that goal.
We simply can’t imagine it will all end here. It is our challenge to survive this and go on as a strong small business; we can do that with your support!
If you support us we really want to give back in the future:
If you donate from €5-19 you’ll become our ambassador and your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel.
If you donate from €20-49 you’ll become our ambassador and your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel and we’ll reserve a typical woven artefact for you.
If you donate from €50-99 you’ll become our ambassador, your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel, we’ll reserve a typical woven artefact for you and you will receive a dinner for 2 in our restaurant.
If you donate from €100-149 you’ll become our ambassador, your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel, we’ll reserve a typical woven artefact for you and your room will be free for the first night.
If you donate from €150-199 you’ll become our ambassador, your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel, we’ll reserve a typical woven artefact for you, your room for the first night will be free and you’ll have a free dinner for 2 in our restaurant.
If you donate €200 or more you’ll become our ambassador, your name will be immortalized on a special board in our hotel, we’ll reserve a typical woven artefact for you, your room for the first night will be free, you’ll have a free dinner for 2 in our restaurant AND you can choose the room that will carry your name.
You can choose whatever name you want, it can be your company, a group of friends, or colleagues, a sports club, you own name or family name! After your donation, we will send you a voucher, you can claim it until 2025!
Please note that the donation will be in euro’s!
Looking forward to seeing you all in Otavalo, Ecuador.
For now. Be safe, stay healthy.
Wendy, Arthur, Lisa and our staff: Lili, Freddy, Blady, Lucy, Susana and Jenny
Hotel Doña Esther, Otavalo, Ecuador.
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