Show goes on despite upheaval in Ecuador

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QUITO, Ecuador -- The timing, perhaps, was not the best for tourism promotion. But the ouster of former Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez coincided precisely with the opening of BITE, one of Ecuador's main annual tourism conferences.

Groups of tour operators, wholesalers and other attendees missed the conferences opening night inauguration in Cuenca on April 20, when they were unable to leave Quito. Quitos airport was closed for several hours, canceling many flights, when nearly 1,000 anti-Gutierrez protesters flooded the tarmac and runway to prevent his escape from the capital city.

By the next day, Gutierrez was in the Brazilian embassy, and flights were back on schedule, enabling attendees to arrive in Cuenca in time for the first day of the trade show.

Former Vice President Alfredo Palacios, installed as president, quickly began replacing government ministers, with Gladys Eljuri de Alvarez (who had just hosted a party for BITE attendees) replaced by Maria Isabel Salvador as minister of tourism.

The changes will have minimal effect on tourism development in Ecuador, according to Patricio Tamariz Duenas, executive director of Fondo Mixto de Promocion Turistica del Ecuador.

Its been turmoil, but its been peaceful turmoil, he told Travel Weekly. I do foresee now a period of calm.

Tamariz also said the fact that his organization is funded by both public and private sectors helps to bring stability, and the organizations plans for its continuing $8.8 million promotional effort remain unchanged.

Among the programs components is a 30-second commercial airing on CNN International and CNN en Espanol.

Several wholesalers attending BITE said they expected demand for Ecuador to continue.

[Tourism problems relating to recent political instability] is definitely more perception than reality, said Jonathan Pinto, president of Platinum Travel Systems, a San Diego-based wholesaler that specializes in Ecuador.

All of the ground operators here are very good, and if there were a demonstration or [any disturbance], they would know how to handle it. Weve never had any problems.

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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