Ana Cristina Valdivieso, 22, was not the office type. She worked for Ecuadorian Tours as a guide, and loved it. She travelled, got to see Ecuador, got to see those special things she still remembers, like the Otavalo fruit market, or how she puts it, “where Otavalo’s really at”. She would be off every weekend, during the week, meeting people from different countries and cultures, filling her eyes with the colours and flavours of her country. She didn’t envy regular jobs one bit. When a good friend asked Cristina to replace her at Metropolitan Touring for a month, she pouted. It wasn’t a guiding position. It was a boring office job.
Her friend was in charge of budget planning and inventories, a strictly financial administration position, and wanted some time off. In retrospect, Cristina thinks her friend was having issues with a co-worker in particular, who, as she would soon find out, wasn’t the easiest person to work with. But it was a good career opportunity, no doubt. She had begun studying Tourism Management in college, and there were clear reasons to consider the move an advantageous one. Cristina insisted, however, on the terms: “I’ll do it only if I can continue guiding on the side”. Guiding on the side? A full-time administrative position plus guiding on the side? Cristina admits it was a hardheaded idea, but she was young, full of dynamism and energy, and thus “guided on the side” for years!
“I was into challenges. Even this complicated co-worker we had represented a challenge. And then the workload was a challenge, and fitting guiding in as well. So I’d set weekends and a Friday up with Ecuadorian Tours to go to Otavalo, for instance, and made sure all my work was done by then to be able to handle both operations.” Her friend never returned and Cristina stayed 3 years with the company in Quito.
In 1994, she was moved to Dallas, Texas to work at Adventure Associates. Adventure Associates was created in the 1970s as a US-based travel agency linked to TISA (Tourism Investment South America), a company that grouped tourism operators in Latin America to make agency logistics, transactions, and such, run more smoothly. Both these entities spearheaded receptive tourism within the region and Metropolitan Touring was always represented. Later on in the game, precisely in 1984, Eduardo Proaño and Hernán Correa’s bold move to buy Adventure Associates from Tom King, once vice-president of Braniff, turned out to be one of the most successful ‘peas’ in the Metropolitan Touring pod. Adventure Associates was Metropolitan Touring’s ambassador in the United States. Cristina sold mainland Ecuador and Galápagos during one of Metropolitan Touring’s most stable periods in its long history, when new projects were not being created every few months, and the company strengthened the many products it had already established. Cristina would work in Dallas for two periods, each about a year, returning to Quito in between as a sales associate and also working at the M/V Polaris, a Lindblad vessel managed by Metropolitan Touring. Cristina, hence, had been around, and had seen Metropolitan Touring through different eyes and vantage points, when during the late 1990s, she took her most long-lasting assignment: “Operaciones”.
“Operaciones was not only something I did for many years, it was one of the most comprehensive jobs in the company. You were the link, the ultimate link between the office world and the real world—in other words “the guide’s world”. Having been a guide, having understood what that entailed, and having understood the company’s networks and systematic functionality from a financial perspective, it made sense for me to work here. And I enjoyed it. The thing was, you had to know everything. You had to know how every single product operated, from the Flotel in the Amazon Basin, to movement in Quito, the airports, the transfers, the day trips… and everything in between… all the suppliers, the drivers, and all of the bad stuff too. The criticism, the complaints, the accidents and mishaps…”
Something like 50% of Ana Cristina Valdivieso’s life has revolved around Metropolitan Touring. She’s now back in the Business Commercial department handling UK, USA and Germany. And as much as she has hinted at having a freelance existence in the world of guiding, she must have noticed that she much preferred the responsibility of taking on the difficult tasks. “Metropolitan grew so much, and was so central to the development of tourism in the country, that everything was on its shoulders. The guides — the entire national system to train guides — was Metropolitan’s… the feasibility of bringing tourists was all Metropolitan… and what is perhaps the most important, the strategic generosity of creating a larger group of partner entities, that intelligent, genius, way of befriending the competition, just made Metropolitan Touring even stronger and greater. Wanting to help other operators, caring about the bigger picture, the country we all loved, and placing it first, it all just pushed the bar up so high, everyone else either had to feel grateful that Metropolitan was leading the way, or was forced to emulate it and adhere to that path.”