Gabriela Carrión, owner of Cazhuma Tours in Cuenca, never forgets what it’s like to be a tourist.
“If you are not out there checking the details of the tours, you don’t know what your clients are experiencing,” she says. “Are they booked for uncomfortable 12-hour or 15-hour days? Are they served a good variety of the meals?”
To find the answers, Carrión makes a point of checking out the experiences her clients will have. In recent months, she has visited lodges in the Amazon, traveled with tour guides scouting new itineraries and dined at restaurants that will be included in tour packages.
“I love to travel so it’s fun for me to see the places my clients will see, to travel the routes they will travel, and sleep in the rooms where they will sleep,” she says. She adds that if she hears complaints about a tour, her preparation will make it easier to find solutions.
It’s not just tour details that fascinate Carrión. “I like to keep up with trends in the tour business, to know what’s happening internationally as well as locally. Recently, she and her husband Marco Vicuña, who is her partner at Cazhuma, visited Europe. “While we were there, we visited local agencies to see what they were doing,” she says. “I brought back some great ideas from Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands — ideas I can use at Cazhuma.”
Carrión’s research has led to significant changes in Cazhuma. Among them is a shift to promoting local and Ecuadorian tours. “Most agencies try to cover the entire region and they sell tours to Peru and Argentina, even North America,” she says. “When you do this, you are putting your clients in package tours that you may not know much about. If we work within Ecuador, we know exactly what people are getting. We have control over it.”
Another reason for focusing on Ecuador, she says, is the country’s enormous variety. “’All you need is Ecuador’, is a great title for the tourism campaign, and it’s true. Within a small area we can offer tourists so many great destinations, different climates and different cultures,” she says. Cazhuma has recently updated its website to reflect the new direction, adopting its own slogan, “Ecuador, closer than you think.”
Cazhuma offers both group and individual tours, and is expanding into specialized tourism, such as volunteer, gastronomy and photography tourism.
“Volunteer tourism is becoming very popular internationally and appeals to people who want a hands-on involvement in local communities,” she says. “It’s not only an excellent way to see the country and learn the culture, but it offers the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping other people.”
Cazhuma plans to offer more custom-designed tours starting in February, such as Lifestyle Tours which connect expats looking to relocate to Ecuador with experts and those who have already made the move. There will also be tours led by a professional photographer who will show tourists and expats how to get the most out of their digital cameras.
In addition, there are tours that incorporate Spanish language training and home-stays with local families. Called “travel and learn” experiences, these can be combined with traditional group tours.
Cazhuma has also introduced a discount Travel Card, which is aimed primarily at expats who want to take advantage of last-minute deals to the Galápagos, Amazon and other popular destinations in Ecuador.
Carrión has practically grown up in the tourism business. She earned her college degree in tourism form Cuenca’s University of Azuay and interned and worked as a guide for government tourism offices. Her preparation also took her to New York City, where she perfected her English and met Marco.
She opened the doors of Cazhuma Tours in 2000 and partnered for 10 years with the Simon Bolivar Language School in Cuenca’s historic district, where she combined her English-teaching skills with tour management.
Among the many changes at Cazhuma, is the launch of an e-letter that keeps clients and prospective clients up to date with new tours and activities offered by the agency. To sign up, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cazhuma Tours is located in Edificio La Cuadra 2, Local No. 4, José Astudillo at Eduardo Crespo Malo in Cuenca. Phone (593)(7) 2832052 or (cell) Cell: 099 5430218.Email: email@example.com. Website http://cazhumatours.com