Metropolitan Touring and the development of tourism in Ecuador
By Lucho Maldonado Robles
The history of this pioneer enterprise is strongly linked to the overall development of Inbound or receptive tourism in Ecuador, as an increasingly important activity for the country’s economy and society.
When the Company was founded, on the 15th of March of 1953, Ecuador was slowly awakening, at governmental policies’ level, to the potential of international tourism, under the visionary perspective of then President of Ecuador, Galo Plaza, who created the first National Direction of Tourism. Subsequent governments maintained a cautious interest in the activity, but a group of young and visionary entrepreneurs, led by Eduardo Proaño, Hernan Correa, Cecil Teran and Renato Perez, among others, were determined to change their outlook. With their initially small but enterprising tourism company, they began working closely with government authorities to create the necessary conditions to cater for international tourism. They were active advocates of the benefits which tourism would bring to the country as a generator of income and employment, whether directly or indirectly, benefitting wide strata of the Ecuadorian population. They also focused on the importance of tourism as a great showcase to project the image of the country and spotlight its fantastic natural and cultural attractions.
At the same time, they literally started creating or “inventing” the tours to be offered to international travelers, with all their components and logistic details. With perseverance, they undertook an intense lobbying with the authorities to persuade them to privilege the construction of priority basic infrastructure, which would facilitate a the accessibility to the country and its tourism attractions and main cities, a task that would not only benefit the then incipient tourism sector, but also the intensive development of many other productive activities in the country.
Hence, with the voices of Metropolitan Touring’s directors, together with many other actors and economic sectors, vital works were undertaken and the international airports of Quito and Guayaquil were inaugurated in 1960. Likewise, the maritime port of Guayaquil was also built and put into operation, as a vital gateway for Ecuador’s commerce, exportations and, indeed, for the potential arrival of international cruise ships. They also advocated the construction of a road network which would facilitate access to the country’s diverse regions, cities and tourist attractions. The construction of Ecuador’s most vital infrastructure was the turning point to launch a new era in the country’s overall development, with these pioneer tourism dreamers very much present throughout.
With regard to private investment, Metropolitan Touring also exerted influence on the construction of Quito’s first luxury hotel, the emblematic and incomparably scenic Hotel Quito, inaugurated in 1959. The company rapidly established its operations office there, catering to enquiries of incoming visitors. A few years later, through a private alliance with the owners of the small and very European Hotel Colon, the ground was laid in the early 70’s for the construction of the modern and luxurious Hotel Colon, another city icon. The hotel was located at the strategic corner of Amazonas and Patria Avenues, across from the picturesque El Ejido Park. A second stage in the construction of the hotel, with its advanced 19-storey tower and world-class installations, converted the Hotel Colon into the flagship property of the Hilton International Hotels’ chain in Ecuador.
Thus, Metropolitan Touring has been an undisputed motor for the development of tourism in Ecuador. From the impulse to construct and operate basic infrastructure, the company kept up a frantic pace of research, design and launch products into the international travel markets. These incorporated more and more cities, towns, natural areas and even some remote corners of the country, creating a diverse portfolio of tourism products to be offered to travelers.
Another arena in which the company played a crucial role, especially since the 1970’s, was leading the tourism promotion of Ecuador, with indefatigable door-to-door visits to the most important tour operators of the main travel markets in the world: United States, several countries in Europe, Latin America and even Japan. The company began to participate actively in the most important fairs and international tourism and travel events, disseminating the country’s name and image on the international stage. This presence generated an increasing interest among tour operators, specialized travel writers and magazines and in the general public, to visit Ecuador. Four decades later, the task is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador, but Metropolitan and dozens of Ecuadorian tour operators and tourism services’ suppliers and outfitters continue to reinforce the nation’s tourism promotion to this day.
In the early 1970’s, Metropolitan had already taken the major step to open the unique and extraordinary Galapagos Islands to world tourism. This was carried out in an organized, responsible and respectful manner, designed to protect the pristine nature of the islands and their conservation; creating, along the way, an authentic new model of “Responsible Tourism”, which would become the cradle of what currently is considered one of the most popular and respected modalities of world tourism: “Ecotourism”.
The joint work conducted by Metropolitan with the Galapagos National Park, Charles Darwin Foundation, local residents and other authorities, institutions and individuals, set the foundations for a model that was considered an example to follow and later replicated and adapted in other countries and continents. The rules, regulations and practices set forth, for operators and visitors alike, have allowed that, after forty years of tourism operations and a sustained growth in the flow of visitors, the vast majority of the visitors’ sites and natural conditions of the islands and their unique fauna and flora are still, to a large extent, intact and safe from the negative impacts which non-respectful practices and unregulated activities could cause.
Ecuador’s Amazon Region was next in the company’s sights. Here, the 50-passenger river boat Flotel Orellana was built and put into regular operation, initially on the Napo River and later on the Aguarico River, bringing visitors from around the world to the most fascinating corners of the awesome Amazonian jungles, with their fantastic native cultures, indigenous peoples and mega-biodiversity.
Shortly thereafter, it was once again Metropolitan Touring, investing its own private resources, who prompted the Government of Ecuador to rehabilitate the mostly abandoned Trans-Andean Railway. This railway, completed in the early 1900s, linked the capital city of Quito, high in the Andes, with the country’s main seaport and commercial hub, Guayaquil. The “Metropolitan Touring Express Rail Adventure” was inaugurated in 1980. Despite its operational ups and downs, the Ecuadorian Railway, considered one of the most spectacular, scenic and unique engineering feats in the world, began to offer a variety of exciting segments along the route. It is currently one of the most important products in the country’s catalogue of top tourism products.
The beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, in the south of the Andean Region and like Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also received its boost from Metropolitan. Here the company created new tours and products to lure visitors. Ancient colonial haciendas, country and rural tourism complexes, a hotel in Ecuador’s central Pacific coast were also targeted and promoted by the company.
Culture, too, was not overlooked by the long-term vision of Metropolitan Touring’s directors and team. National icons like the famous “Jacchigua” Folklore Ballet of Ecuador, also received a substantial impulse and support from the company. Today the Ballet is considered a “National Heritage of the Ecuadorian Music, Dance and Culture”, enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.
At an Institutional level, Metropolitan Touring was active in supporting the creation of the Ecuadorian Corporation of Tourism, which later, with various “mutations” of name and functions, became Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism, a sure sign of the importance given by the country’s government to the travel industry. Equally, the work and seal of MT were present in the country’s most important professional groups, associations and industry organizations, at regional and global level. Indeed, a number of the founding directors of the company became Presidents and Directors of these important Organizations. The tireless work of the company’s leaders, past and present, has undoubtedly contributed, in a substantial manner, to position the image of Ecuador in the world and launched it to the heights of a world-class tourism destination. Moreover, the interest in visiting Ecuador has grown, not only as it is more intensely promoted and better known for its amazing cultural and natural diversity, accessibility and hospitality, but also as a recognized leader and pioneer on the implementation of “Best Practices” and soundly engaged with a real model of socially and environmentally-responsible sustainable tourism.
Metropolitan promoted and led the creation of Ecuador’s Tourism Promotion Fund, following a model started earlier by Peru, which once again set the bases for the creation of an official organism with the necessary budget and funds to conduct a large-scale and well-planned strategic tourism promotion of the country around the world. The company was also among the main supporters and active participants in the creation of the National Federation of Tourism Chambers of Ecuador, as well as to the elaboration of Ecuador’s Tourism Law.
It would be impossible not to include a mention of Metropolitan Touring’s decisive influence in the formation of a formidable and highly qualified human talent, throughout Ecuador: the company is considered an outstanding “Practical Tourism School”. Many of the country’s most recognized tourism and travel professionals and entrepreneurs were formed in this respected “school”. The Courses for Tourism Guides, organized, directed and conducted annually by the company with its own resources, between the 1970’s and the early 90’s, saw numerous promotions of some of the best tourist guides, several of whom are still active today, with the special mystique and the unique seal of the “Metropolitan Touring School”.
With the beginning of the 21st century, Metropolitan Touring initiates, under the leadership of Roque Sevilla and Grupo Futuro, a new era – not only for the company’s development, which boosts its modernization, technology and expansion, but also as an active motor in the development of tourism in the country.
The introduction of innovations in technology and in marketing, in creating new and ambitious programmes and products across the country, have kept MT in the forefront of Ecuador’s touristic development. The complete renovation of the Finch Bay Eco-Hotel, repeatedly awarded with nominations for the excellence of its services and facilities; the incorporation of the new and luxurious Yacht La Pinta to the Galapagos fleet; the opening of the sophisticated Casa Gangotena in the heart of Quito’s Historic Center; and the development of the innovative Mashpi Lodge, in the cloudforests northwest of Quito, are all symbols of this vision.
As President of the Pichincha (Quito) Chamber of Tourism and the National Federation of Chambers of Tourism of Ecuador, Roque Sevilla contributed substantially to key initiatives for development of tourism in the country, such as the Tourism Law, the Tourism Promotion Fund and many more.
Beginning in 2007, under the direction of Paulina Burbano de Lara as Executive President since 2010, the company expands its frontiers and becomes the first tourism company of Ecuador to go multinational and to start operating, under its own name, brand, offices and philosophy, its own receptive tourism services in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Colombia.
Fostering and creating synergies between the private and public sectors, between the diverse stakeholders, suppliers of tourism services, universities and trade organizations, Metropolitan Touring continues to lead the tourism development of Ecuador. It can be proud of its contribution to the fact that the industry continues to grow sustainably, with 1.2 million visitors in 2012.
The challenge is now to capitalize positively on the recent “avalanche” of recognitions received from the international travel trade and highly prestigious publications like National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet guidebooks and many more, declaring Ecuador among the “Best Destinations for 2013” and, of course, for the future….
Metropolitan Touring celebrates 60 years in Travel
It takes a certain type of spirit to make a real difference. It takes a certain team of people to believe in dedicating their energies to their countries.
The first steps to develop an Ecotourism model
From the onset of 1968, the visionary leaders of Metropolitan Touring started with their visits of inspection to Galapagos...