The streets of El Centro were crowded with tourists Friday night and Cuenca restaurant and hotel owners couldn’t be happier. “We expected more customers but this is even better than we hoped for,” said Jorge Ramirez, standing outside the café he manages in the new Casa del Parque complex on Parque Calderon. “We have people waiting in line to get in tonight. Imagine that!”
The scene was similar on Calle Larga and in the Rio Tomebamba Barranco district.
“Most of these people are from Guayaquil which is good for us since they spend more money than Cuencanos,” says Ramirez. “It is a tradition for them to come to Cuenca on holidays, even their own holiday, and we are thrilled to see them coming back. They are good people who like to have fun.”
He added: “I’m even seeing a few gringos tonight, which is great. You usually don’t see too many of them after 8 at night.”
Several historic district boutique hotels also reported large numbers of customers. “We are full and are actually turning people away,” says Graciela Miller at her hotel on Calle Gran Colombia. “This hasn’t happened in more than a year. We love the people from Guayaquil and look forward to the end of pandemic so we can welcome more of them.”
Both Ramirez and Miller say their optimism is tempered by the reality of Covid-19 restrictions. “We cannot return to normal until social distancing goes away,” Miller says. “It’s a killer for all kinds of business, not just restaurants. We will do well this weekend but we know what we face next week.”
Miller says that only about half of Cuenca’s hotels and hostals are open. “So many of them have gone out of business and others are still closed and we don’t know if they will reopen or not. The one that surprised all of us was when Mansion Alcazar closed but there are rumors it will reopen in December or January. Things are crazy. And sad. It will be good for those of us who survive but it means fewer choices for tourists when things go back to normal.”
Despite the bad market, Miller worries that two new luxury hotels under construction in historic district buildings will overload demand. “Both of them are far along in the renovation process,” she says. “The high-end market is very small and I wonder when there will be enough tourists to support them.” One of the projects, on Simon Bolivar, she says, will target international gay travelers, which she calls a “very narrow market, even in good times.”
Ramirez says he’s focusing on the weekend and will worry next week about surviving the pandemic. “Tonight, I’m just enjoying the scene, the people in the streets, all the Guayaquileños are happy. They’re even lined up to buy tickets for the tranvia. This is what I look forward to in the future.”
Police step up patrols
National and transit police have doubled their numbers for the holiday weekend, checking the credentials of drivers on highways and major streets, occasionally administering breathalyzer tests when they suspect alcohol consumption. On Friday night, transit police say they issued more than 100 tickets for a variety of driving infractions and arrested 22 for serious offenses, including drunk driving.
The Cuenca Citizen Guard is increasing its spot-checks of city restaurants, parks and other areas where people gather. A spokesman said Friday that most restaurants are respecting social distancing and other biosecurity requirements although it issued several warnings.
‘Almost like normal times’ at bus terminal
For the first time since the Covid-19 health emergency was declared, Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre was filled with bus passengers Friday. “We are only at 58 percent capacity since many of the bus routes have not been restored, but we haven’t seen this many bus riders since March,” said Cuenca transportation director Fabián Moscoso. “It almost feels like normal times.” He added that the bus terminal is enforcing social distancing and mask requirements. “Everyone knows they have to be careful and our officers will make certain that the rules are followed.”