PHOTO: Veronica Sevilla, General Manager of the Quito Tourism Board. (Photo courtesy of the Quito Tourism Board)
Quito is more than just Ecuador’s capital city. The mountaintop municipality was the first to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features one of the Americas’ largest and best-preserved colonial districts.
Located in the Andes at 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito features winding cobblestone streets leading to broad open plazas. Many of the city’s majestic colonial structures are built atop still-visible Incan stone foundations. Nearby natural attractions include Cotopaxi National Park, while the city’s busy marketplaces and charming Bohemian-style districts offer opportunities to experience the city’s cuisine and culture.
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Coordinating tourism activities for Quito is now the responsibility of Veronica Sevilla, who was named general manager of the Quito Tourism Board in February. Sevilla directs strategic tourism planning, promotion and development, with the goal of increasing arrivals and spending, promoting longer stays and driving investment and tourism development for Quito.
She brings extensive experience developing South American tourism companies, including those in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil. Sevilla has also held management positions and provided consulting for Casa Gangotena, a luxury hotel in Quito; and Mashpi Lodge, located in Ecuador’s cloud forest.
We spoke with Sevilla to hear her views on the tourism growth and the potential for one of Latin America’s high-profile travel destinations.
TP: Why are people visiting Quito today?
VS: Beyond being the gateway to Ecuador, Quito is one of Latin America’s less-discovered cities [and] offers a variety of experiences. It may be one of South America’s smallest capital cities, but visitors find something to do regardless of the type of vacation they’re looking for, be it history, culture, nature, gastronomy [or] art. As the first city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quito’s historic city center offers stunning architectural wonders that have been carefully preserved.
Some of the historic homes in the area have also been converted into impressive four and five-star boutique hotels. Quito lies in the heart of the Andes and therefore enjoys fantastic views of surrounding volcanoes and natural landscapes—ideal for those who enjoy bird watching and learning about the rich native flora.
READ MORE: Walk the streets of Quito, Ecuador
TP: What specific events are taking place this year that visitors to Quito should look forward to?
VS: Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Quito, is one of the most important celebrations in the city. Held the last week of March, this is an ideal time for tourists to visit the city and witness Quito’s significant expressions of faith. On Palm Sunday, decorative items are woven and made of palm leaves, taken to mass where they are blessed, and then returned to the home where they remain until the following year at which time they are burned and the ashes used during the ceremonies of Ash Wednesday.
Good Friday celebrations, however, are the most iconic. Thousands of people descend on the Plaza of San Francisco, at noon (the time of Jesus’ death). The procession begins from the San Francisco Church and returns three hours later—the hour in which Jesus was crucified.
Fiestas de Quito, (Spanish for Quito Celebrations), commemorates the foundation of the city. This year will honor its 483-year-old history: Celebrations begin in late November with the election of the new Queen of Quito (a beauty pageant contest held every year) and will extend until December 6, when the city’s streets, avenues and plazas fill with the colors and joy of the holiday season.
TP: Are most visitors combining their Quito visit with a trip to the Galapagos?
VS: When people come and visit Ecuador, they want to take advantage of their trip and see as much as they can.
We see that many of our visitors extend their trip to the Galapagos to enjoy a different experience. The Quito International Airport offers a number of flights directly to the Galapagos, so visitors to the destination can reach the islands easily. Also, because it is a short two-hour flight, visitors can enjoy the city to its fullest before embarking on their Galapagos adventure.
READ MORE: ILTM Americas Report: A Galapagos Resort Experience
TP: What do you believe are Quito’s least-appreciated features?
VS: Affordability. Quito’s official currency is the US dollar, which makes it easy for Americans to visit.
The majority of products are very affordable compared to the states. The city offers high-quality artisanal items for a low price at markets like Otavalo, and there are moderate prices for boutiques and hotels throughout the city. The public bus is 25 cents for each trip, making it an easy way to get through the city. There are affordable tours and museums, plazas, parks and churches tend to have free admission. Local food markets offer inexpensive traditional food and unique medicinal products.
One of the latest products that we have developed is the “Colonial Route” that includes a visit to Quito and Cuenca as well as the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogota; all UNESCO heritage sites. This program includes two days in Cuenca and Cartagena and 3 days in Bogota and Quito. This alliance between the Quito Tourism Board and the Tourism Board of Colombia was a joint initiative to promote both South American countries.
TP: What programs has your office implemented to support travel and tourism to the city?
VS: The Quito Tourism Board has an extensive program in North America that [includes] communications efforts, familiarization trips, co-ops, advertising, events, training and participation in industry shows. We are also focusing on increasing connectivity to the destination.
We work closely with travel agencies and US tour operators to sell and promote the destination. We consider them to be great partners and rely on them to sell Quito. As a tourism board, we coordinate familiarizations trips as well as roadshows including in-office training in several cities in the United States. We also make sure to attend several trade events like the USTOA Annual Conference.
TP: How will hosting the Routes Americas aviation conference in 2018 impact Quito as a tourism destination?
VS: This conference will allow huge exposure for the destination, which will hopefully spur travel and allow for attendees to extend their stay for a few days to experience more of what the destination has to offer. We were chosen as host city due to our strong connectivity to the world, convenient location, and extensive tourism and cultural offerings.
We have been investing in new high-quality facilities over the past few years and this will be a great opportunity for us to showcase what we have done.