In contrast to many other Latin American countries, Ecuador had a small tourist industry, and it played only a minor role in the economy in the 1980s. In 1985 approximately 250,000 tourists visited Ecuador and contributed over US$200 million to the economy. Colombia was the source of 36 percent of the visitors, followed by the United States with 2l percent and Western Europe with 18 percent. Ecuador did not include brief cross-border visits in official tourist statistics, so these figures do not include the many Colombian visitors who were only on short shopping trips, taking advantage of the generally lower prices in Ecuador.
The government provided limited support of tourism, and many colonial towns, ancient ruins, and areas of natural beauty were undeveloped because of lack of promotion or inadequate infrastructure for visitors. The most popular tourist destination in the 1980s was the Galápagos Islands, but concerns over the delicate and unique environment limited large-scale tourism there. The National Directorate of Tourism was attempting to broaden the tourist destinations available.
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