Cuenca´s tourist information office reports that complaints about taxi fares always increase during holiday seasons and this year is no exception.
Juan Sebastian Maldonado, an official with iTUR, says that most complaints involve taxi fare from the city´s Mariscal La Mar airport to hotels in the historic district. “For most destinations in El Centro, the fare should be no more than $3. I have heard of a number of cases, however, where drivers were asking as much as $7, and one, that I haven´t been able to verify, of $15."
Taxi driver Victor Alvarez said that there are circumstance where higher fares are justified, particularly in cases involving extra luggage and passengers. “I agree that $7 is too much,” he says. “This makes all taxi drivers look bad and it is not good for tourism.”
Maldonado says that taxi fares around the historic district should never be more than $1.50. Fare to Mall del Rio should be $2.50 and to Turi, $3.50. “Once visitors to Cuenca understand what the fares should be, it is up to them not to over-pay for service.”
CITY SCRAMBLES TO ACCOMMODATE HOLIDAY VENDORS, HEARS COMPLAINTS ABOUT SCHEDULING MISTAKES
Many crafts and food vendors in town for Cuenca´s holidays complained that the city has been slow to approve operating permits. The city claims it was overwhelmed by the record number of vendors but worked overtime to issue permits. City officials also heard complaints about mistakes in the printed Viva Cuenca guide that lists times and places for events.
A spokesman for the city said that this is will be the largest celebration in Cuenca´s history, not only in terms of vendors but in the number of tourists as well. “We are working very hard to make things run smoothly.” He said that the city expects between 100,000 and 125,000 visitors to the city during the holidays.
Requests from restaurant and bar owners to extend hours for liquor sales were rejected by the national police office who said that hours are set by law. Alcohol cannot be served past midnight Monday through Thursday, or past 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Edmundo Merlo, chief of the National Police Command in Azuay, says he will have about 300 extra forces in Cuenca during the holiday week and enforcing drinking laws will be a priority.
TOURIST INDUSTRY DISPUTES GOVERNMENT CLAIMS OF INCREASED TOURISM
Hotel owners and tour operators say that tourism in Ecuador remains flat and has actually declined in some areas, when compared to numbers from a year ago. This contradicts government claims that the number of tourists is up more than 40% from a year ago.
According to Cuenca tour company owner Juan Heredia, the problem is the method that the government uses to count tourists. “They are counting people coming into the country from Colombia and Cuba, for example, and these people are not tourists.”
Kjetil Haugan, who owns a tour company in Quito and operates yachts in the Galapagos Islands agrees. “We are not seeing any increase in tourism," he says, adding, "I have a serious issue with the way the government calculates the number of toursits.”
Several Cuenca tour owners say that the number of U.S. and Canadian tourists has declined in recent months. Fortunately, they say, the drop is offset by an increased number of European visitors.
The government counts all foreigners entering the country as tourists and admits that many of them are refugees. In recent months, hundreds of Cubans, Peruvians and Colombians have been deported for violating conditions of the tourist stamp issued at airports and borders.
Photo caption: Holiday tourists complain about taxi fares.