Owners of Cuenca hotels, tour agencies, and restaurants believe that tourism in the city is poised for strong growth.
“There are several reasons for optimism, especially last week’s announcement about the return of the airline fuel subsidy,” says historic district hotel owner José Serrano. “Our selection two months ago as the best place for vacations in South America is one of them. This has been reported on tv and in the international travel magazines. Another reason is that work on the tranvía is beginning again — I am keeping my fingers crossed — and it could be finished by the end of next year.”
Serrano and other owners point to the increased number of tourists attending events of Cuenca’s independence holiday as a strong indicator for optimism. “We estate there were 120,000 out-of-town tourists in Cuenca for the holidays,” says Juan Pablo Vanegas, president of the Hotel Association of Azuay. “Last year, we had about 90,000 and hotel rooms were 80% full. This year we had 100% occupancy.”
Cuenca could easily become the third major tourist destination in Ecuador, after Quito and the Galapagos Islands, say Fidel Fajardo, a tourism professor at the University of Guayaquil. “Almost all the reports on the city in travel magazines and tour websites give it rave reviews,” he says. “People trust what they read in Conde Nast Traveller, National Geographic, the New Yorker, and television network sites, and Cuenca gets glowing reports.”
Like Serrano, Vanegas believes the tram could become a big draw for Cuenca. “Today, everyone is sick of it and it’s a sore point with hotels and other businesses that have been hurt by construction,” he says. “Once it starts running, however, and once word gets out that you can get from the airport and bus station to the historic district in five minutes, it will be a big draw. This will be reported in the travel media and could have the same impact on the city as it did in Bordeaux (France).”
He adds: “In Bordeaux, everyone hated the tram while it was being built. It was behind schedule and over budget and causing distress among business long the line. And, just like in Cuenca, the locals said it would never work. Well guess what? Once it was completed the tourists loved it and helped to revive Bordeaux’s tourism.”
Serrano, Vanegas and Fajardo agree that the most important immediate factor in reviving tourism is the airline fuel subsidy. “By the end of the year, the number of flights to Cuenca increases by 75% and fares drop by 30% to 50%,” he says. This will spur real growth for our sector.”