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Tourism sector in Cuenca grows with the help of private investment

Published on January 30, 2023

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Cuenca’s tourism sector has come back fast after the end of the pandemic. One of the engines for its success has been private investment in hotels and restaurants.

Hotel and gastronomic entrepreneurs have invested large sums of money to give Cuenca a tourist boost. Thanks to this, tourism is one of the sectors that has lifted the economy of the Azuayan capital since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

“The private tourism sector has contributed to beautify the city,” says José Luis Correa, vice president of the Chamber of Tourism of Azuay.

The joint investment exceeds $15 million since 2019, according to calculations by that union. The most important investments have been allocated to the opening of new hotels and gastronomic spaces.

In 2019, the union counted 200 hotel establishments in Azuay, at the end of 2022, the number rose to 300. That figure includes hostels and small hotels, as well as four- and five-star hotels.

The number is striking because at the beginning of the pandemic, the tourism sector was the hardest hit by travel and mobility restrictions.

High investment in restoration

Entrepreneurs have spared no effort to boost the sector, says Correa, “A strong economic injection is required, especially to renovate heritage houses, which are the axis of this reactivation.”

Although tourism institutions do not have official data on the investment allocated to these projects, there is an estimate that considers the largest interventions.

Different businessmen allocated at least $10 million just for the restoration of four large heritage houses. Three opened their doors between 2020 and 2022.

The union representative explains that this generates an economic movement in several sectors: the projects require restorers, designers, builders, service personnel and suppliers from different areas.

To this are added other interventions, which are below $500,000 to restore smaller heritage spaces. These function today as restaurants, bars, cafeterias and terraces.

“There is a large investment in gastronomic projects for tourism purposes,” points out Pablo Villalta, owner of Distrito, a bar located on Santa Ana street, next to the Cuenca Cathedral.

And these projects require a higher investment than establishments that only have a restaurant category. “To this is added that in the Historic Center of Cuenca a series of additional studies must be carried out that make the costs more expensive,” adds Villalta.

Investors are mainly local economic groups and immigrants who have decided to invest in the city.

In the first group is, for example, the Eljuri family, owner of the Casa del Parque, which opened its doors in 2020, when the pandemic restrictions began to be lifted.

This project, which consists of a gastronomic plaza and an exclusive restaurant in a corner of Parque Calderón, gave a turn to the dynamics of the Historic Center and motivated new investments, says the vice president of the Chamber of Tourism, José Luis Correa.

The hotelier Juan Pablo Vintimilla is another of the investors in gastronomic projects. In 2021 he opened the first ‘rooftop’ in the center of Cuenca. Since then, other businessmen have adapted similar spaces in the same area.

Another strong investment is the one made by the group that owns the Monte Bianco ice cream parlor chain to open Casa Firenza, which includes a haute cuisine restaurant, lodging and a ‘rooftop.’

Investments also expanded to neighboring cantons, such as Paute. In January 2023, businessman José Portilla reopened a tourist icon of Azuay that had been closed for several years: an old inn, now called Uzhupud Garden.

Without mentioning the figure, the businessman said that his objective was to recover a space that attracts national and foreign visitors. Portilla believes that it is a good time to strengthen the tourist offer, due to the high impact that the sector is beginning to have in Azuay.

Migrants who bet on tourism

Migrants and foreigners also see the tourism sector as a good investment. Among them is the Ecuadorian Maritza Yumbla, owner of Itza Hotel Boutique, which opened its doors in 2022.

The businesswoman signed an investment contract for $1.1 million with the Ministry of Tourism. In addition, she has plans to continue investing in the city.

Samuel Ochoa is another migrant who decided to venture into the tourism sector. He has invested more than $2 million in the restoration of a heritage home alone. This project is still under construction.

There are also investments to improve existing projects.

In 2022, Sri Robert and Kira Larson, an American couple, invested $200,000 to adapt the infrastructure of their Tosa Blue Mountain lodge, located in Paute.

The public sector does its part

The public sector has also joined this wave of tourism investment. The Municipality of Cuenca invested $1.2 million in the recovery of the Turi viewpoint, one of the most important attractions in Cuenca.

Entrepreneurs in the sector agree that all these investments have increased the time tourists stay in Cuenca, because they now have more options.

In addition, throughout the year, there is a permanent flow of national tourists, especially from Guayaquil, says Distrito’s Villalta.

In 2022, 683,859 visitors came to the province, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism. Of that total, 25% were foreigners. The peak dates were the holidays of October 9th and November 3rd.


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