You would imagine Ecuador’s leading tourism agency, so connected to the global market, so closely linked with agencies and providers around the world, would be powered by state-of-the-art technology. And if not at a global scale, at least in comparison to its Ecuadorian peers. Marcela Romero, however, remembers having to borrow the telex machine from “the neighbors”, such as Casa Paz, the exchange office, or Hotel Colon, feeling just a sight tinge of envy. When the telex was out of order, she’d have to pick up her ribbons, stick them in a bag and run to the nearest neighbor to work in sleek telex machines, that just seemed so much more user-friendly than the one she was forced to use. “At the time, it belonged in a museum… actually; I think someone told me it is in a museum!”
Marcela is days away from retiring from the only company she ever worked for. She started on June 15, 1981 —she remembers the day, a Monday! — as telephone operator. She got the job because her mother worked at Hotel Quito when Guadalupe Proaño managed the Metropolitan Touring office at the hotel, and spoke of an opening in the company. Marcela applied. They chose her, which was great news, but transferred her to a small cellar at the bottom of the stairs, “where everything”, she says, “was grey”, from the mastodon telex machine to the closet that housed the telephone operating system that clicked and clacked all day long. She answered and transferred phone calls, and received and stamped incoming and outgoing envelopes. Luckily, six months later, she made it up to the main floor as receptive programmer. Of course, she wasn’t promoted from telex operator to full-fledged “computer programming”! The word existed before the computer was invented. Metropolitan Touring in those days, albeit the complexity of handling a world full of tourists pouring into Ecuador and the Galapagos, was a simple operation divided into four major categories: programming, operations, reservations and billing. That’s how it was all organized. And everyone worked in the same space, so the programmer knew what the operations agent said, and the conversation between these two was well jotted down by reservations and billing. “Each of us knew all there was to know, it was very different”.
We agree that Metropoitan Touring was a labor of love from the very beginning. It worked seamlessly thanks to the hard-work and relentless dedication of its members (60 in total), who followed the lead of Eduardo Proaño, a genius PR to whom technology meant very little. It seems the company had no need for the most advanced equipment, if it had a “state-of-the-art” personnel. “Imagine typing everything in these telex machines and then having to write a summary, by hand, of what we typed, for every single document, on a separate sheet of paper we would clip on the front for filing purposes. It got better with the coming of the electric typewriter, but it was still a lot of work”. Computers arrived in the 90s; the internet in the late 90s!
Marcela feels everything she did in her life had a purpose, and was the reason for her undeniable success as a professional. As if it were made to be that, during her later high school years, one of the teachers of her school initiated her in English. “She was very passionate about it, and the energy transmitted to me,” says Marcela, who, probably because of her level in a society in which English speakers were few and far between, was able to move up the Metropolitan Touring ladder so quickly. Her first receptionist job lasted 6 months before she was promoted. As a programmer, she learned the entire mechanism of the company, and admits to me, “I’ve been able to use everything I learned during those early years along the way. I used the perfect formula: my knowledge of English, my passion for service, my beautiful country, which equals 32 years of personal and professional success!”
Marcela continued, through hard work and dedication, and a lifetime of experiences in Metropolitan, to become head of operations and reserves, and led two very different, and perhaps little known, ventures at the company: “incentive tourism” packages and getting in on the international cruise line industry. Seeing that Ecuador was being bypassed by major cruises heading from Panamá to Peru, Metropolitan Touring offered the ports of Manta and Guayaquil as docks for large cruise ships, larger than anything Ecuadorian tourism has ever seen before. Many people may not even know that they exist, or that they actually come to the country, but during the northern winter months, Ecuador receives these enormous boats filled with people, who visit our coastal towns, take a day trip (some even fly to Quito), or enjoy a nice Metropolitan Touring-catered day-event. Marcela has been involved in preparing their logistics, opening an entirely new market for receptive tourism in Ecuador. The same occurs with Incentive Tourism, a new brand of corporate travel in which the board of directors organizes the most sumptuous holidays possible for outstanding employees. Marcela has been involved in handpicking the best of Ecuadorian arts-and-crafts, which are given as gifts to the passengers, as well as making sure the tours and events prepared by Metropolitan Touring are the most special and unique around. The bar is placed very, very high… itineraries must include exclusive things. Companies expect nothing short of perfection. “If I hadn’t been a programmer,” she says, “I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to these events like I know I do. We’ve received standing ovations from our guests, including the world-renowned Hewlett Packard team. Their coming, and everything that occurred on that trip, both in the mainland as well as in Galápagos, from the organization to the closing party, will stay in my memory for years to come”.
Marcela looks back today at her career, and notices how everything counts. She recalls her beginnings as a telephone operator, her work as programmer, witnessing the company change administrations, and now retiring as National Director of Operations and Reservations, the true “cherry on the cake”. Throughout the experience, Marcela understand that it has all helped her carry out the essence of her job: offering the best, most creative and dedicated Costumer Service possible, which, in turn, has always been the essence of Metropolitan Touring.