Central South America The tourism business reaches record heights in Ecuador By Mark Chesnut / August 14, 2007 Share 1 -- Ecuador is experiencing record-breaking tourism growth, according to suppliers and tourism officials gathered at Meet Ecuador, a traveling trade show that recently visited several cities in the U.S. and Canada. "Our growth between 2005 and 2006 was 21% to 22%, and for 2007 we expect another 20%," said Mariano Proano, general manager of Travel Opportunities South America. "All the flights are full."The U.S. is the fastest-growing [market] for Ecuador," he added. "We're not doing as much as Peru, but we're growing."Monica Irauzqui of Kontiki Tours & Travel cited a 20% growth in bookings to Ecuador within the past year. "Especially with the Galapagos," she said, "because there are so many more [cruises]." (For more on the Galapagos Islands, see "On the origin of tourists: Humans, ecology clash on Galapagos.")Dominic Hamilton, international media relations officer for the Quito Metropolitan Tourism Corp., reported an estimated 7% increase in visitor arrivals to Ecuador's capital city so far this year. He said the primary origin markets are the U.S., Spain, the U.K. and Germany.Hamilton said one of the trends driving tourism to the capital is continuing improvement in the city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dotted with landmark churches, government buildings and private residences."There is a movement back to the old town," he said. "Five years ago, people didn't want to stay there."With hotels opening in historical buildings as well as more outdoor cafes and a theater that opened last year, interest is increasing.Since 2005, Quito has also been home to the Teleferiqo, an aerial tramway that whisks visitors some 13,400 feet up to Cruz Loma, a hill on the east side of the volcano Pichincha.Quito is making plans to open a new international airport by 2011. The $600 million project, located outside the city limits, will be much larger than the existing Mariscal Sucre Airport and won't have the constraints presented by Sucre's high altitude, allowing for nonstop flights from more far-flung destinations, aboard larger aircraft.In other news from Meet Ecuador:" Kleintours this year introduced Ethnic Express, a train that offers excursions in the northern Andes through the province of Imbabura, from Ibarra to San Lorenzo. Between the stations in Ibarra and Salinas, riders descend from 7,216 feet to 4,920 feet in about two hours.The new train will accommodate 60 passengers and will go into service in September. It will offer views of lakes Cuicocha, Yaguarcocha and San Pablo. Kleintours described the program as a community-based tourism project, noting the economic and cultural benefits that come from travelers' interactions with some of the residents of the region. Visit www.kleintours.com." The Hilton Colon Quito Hotel is wrapping up renovations resulting in deluxe room and luxury suite categories for 2008. Visit www.quito.hilton.com." The Plaza Grande Hotel, a 15-room boutique property, opened in January in a 16th century building that in earlier decades had been the Hotel Majestic. The new property has three restaurants and meeting space. Rack rates start at $500. Visit www.plazagrandequito.com." Two other small hotels have recently opened. The Hotel el Relicario del Carmen, an 18-room property in an 18th century mansion, charges $70 to $90 per room, including breakfast. The Villa Colonna, a bed-and-breakfast with five suites, charges $150 per night through the end of 2007 and $200 in 2008. Visit www.hotelrelicariodelcarmen.com or www.villacolonna.ec." Metropolitan Touring purchased a 19th century home on Plaza San Francisco in downtown Quito and will open it as a 35-room hotel by the end of 2009. In March, the company will launch a 40-passenger yacht, La Pinta, which will offer a seven-night Galapagos itinerary. Visit www.metropolitan-touring.com." In 2008, Quito will celebrate 30 years as the first World Heritage city, and in 2009 the city will mark the 200th anniversary of the "first cry of liberty" in the war of independence against Spain. Numerous commemorative events are in the works." The Swissotel Quito will complete a renovation of its executive floor at the end of this year. The property also has a new restaurant/bar, Time Out, and has renovated its Tanoshi and Les Alpes restaurants. Visit www.swissotel.com." Platinum Travel Systems is offering new, customized packages this year, including weddings on the beach on the Galapagos Islands. Visit www.ptsincorporated.com." Kontiki Tours & Travel is offering agents a booking bonus of $50 per person, with no end date announced. Ecuador Highlights, a new Kontiki tour, includes colonial Quito and Cuenca, the highlands of Ecuador, the Chiva train, the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rain forest. Visit www.kontiki.org.For more information about Quito, visit the Quito Metropolitan Tourism Corp. at www.quito.com.ec. For more information about the next Meet Ecuador trade show, visit www.meetecuadorseminars.com.To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail email@example.com.