Business trip: Quito

Ecuador's capital city is making big investments to raise its stature as a business and leisure powerhouse on the South American continent.

For business travellers, capital city Quito has long played second fiddle to Guayaquil, Ecuador's financial hub, and according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism, it ranks 11th within South America as a conference and meeting destination. But with the 2016 opening of a $35 million convention centre on the site of the city's former downtown airport, Quito has its eyes set on climbing up that list.

And the city is already visibly on the move. Thanks in part to the ministry's multi-pronged approach of enhancing safety standards in Quito, boosting the quality of hotel and tourism amenities, and attracting the kinds of convention and business traffic that will lift up its economy, business traveller numbers to Quito, often the gateway to other Ecuadorian cities, are on the rise as part of the overall visitor count, which has risen about 7% each year for the past three years according to the Ministry of Tourism.

In February, the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport opened 40km east of the city. The construction of a new highway in early 2014 will cut travel time to the airport by almost half (taxi fares should clock in at about $25).

A new metro system is under construction, beginning at the old airport, which is now an interim meetings venue and public park known as the Centro de Eventos Bicentenario (soon to be the site of the new convention centre), and continuing through the city's colonial centre, ending in Quitumbe, a neighbourhood south of the city. The project is set to be completed in late 2014.

The city's exciting growth prospects were confirmed when Quito won the coveted World Travel Award for " South America's Leading Destination", at the July 2013 World Travel Award ceremony for Central and South America in Lima, Peru. The honour is considered the Oscar of the travel industry, and reaffirmed the need to protect and promote Quito’s colonial centre, which was named a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978.


The 275-room Swissotel Quito, winner of the 2013 World Travel Award of "Best Hotel in Ecuador", sits in the heart of the financial Floresta neighbourhood. It is less than 2km from La Mariscal, a bustling entertainment district full of bars, cafes and shops. Ongoing renovations at the hotel will see the introduction of electronic window blinds in all rooms (all of which have excellent views of either the Cotopaxi or Pichincha volcanoes) and renewed local art. Perhaps the hotel's biggest draw, however, is Tanoshii, its Japanese restaurant. It was the first of its kind in the city, and the chef oversees a menu of teppanyaki and sushi entrees.

Across from El Ejido public park – the site of a regular weekend art and handicraft fair hawking everything from fine leather products to traditional embroidered blankets – the 255-room Hilton Colon hotel is home to the city's newest meetings and convention venue The hotel consists of three towers named after Christopher Columbus' armada of ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The newest is the Pinta tower, which has 42 refreshed suites and 21 meeting rooms, offering the most meeting space in the city centre. La Pinta, the hotel’s breakfast venue, opens at 2 am for travellers departing on early-morning flights.

Le Parc Hotel is one of Quito's most modern, with 30 suites and plans to double the number to 60 by spring 2014. The decor is unlike anything the city has seen before, infusing a bit of London and New York design via hanging chrome bedside lamps and animal print fabrics into a city proud of its colonial heritage. Guest suites are some of the city's largest, with hardwood floors, cushioned headboards and striking artwork throughout. Its location in the Carolina neighbourhood provides overworked guests with close proximity to the city's botanical gardens, Jardin Botanico de Quito, situated inside La Carolina Park

Situated on the Plaza San Francisco in Quito's colonial centre and opened in late 2011, Casa Gangotena is the city's newest and most celebrated luxury debut in years. Its 31 rooms in a converted mansion include eight with direct views of the plaza. Decor respectfully blends colonial pieces with Art Deco furnishings and hand-painted artwork on the walls. The modern accoutrements that travellers expect such as flat-screen TVs, duvet-topped beds and high-speed wi-fi are all in place. With a ratio of 1.5 staff per guest room, the service is exceptional, especially on the rooftop terrace, which is reserved for guests and is the ideal spot for a sunset cocktail. The hotel also offers creative tours to guests, including a chocolate tasting tour of Quito (Ecuador is a top producer of cacao beans) and a culinary excursion sampling street food and visiting local markets.

Expense account
Patria restaurant sits in the heart of Plaza de Cumbaya in the gentrified Cumbaya Valley, roughly 15km east of the city centre on the way to the airport. The city's newest eatery, the decor is urbane, chic, and clad in white, while glass walls and ceilings permit bountiful natural light and views of the surrounding garden. Flower bouquets are on the counters and tabletops and the communal tables facing the open kitchen fill up fast for pre-dinner cocktails. The menu – a modern twist on Ecuadorian cuisine – excites with dishes such as empanadas stuffed with organic vegetables and shredded pork, or quinoa wraps packed with local beans, dried fruits and spices.

Impressing a client over lunch or dinner is guaranteed at Zazu, a trendy restaurant in the Mariscal neighbourhood started by masterful German restaurateur Jan Niedrau. Many of the vegetables used in the salads come from Niedrau's organic farm north of Quito. The menu runs the gamut, from pistachio-crusted tuna and grilled octopus to a pan-seared duck or braised veal shank. This is the only restaurant in Ecuador to have received the five-star Diamond award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, reflecting its impeccable menu and service.

Off the clock
Due to its location along the equator and endless warm weather, Ecuador is one of the world's top rose producers and exporters. Nevado Roses, a family business producing organic and fair trade flowers in Latacunga, an hour south of Quito by train, offers regular tours of its farm and rose fields. Visitors can explore how the blooms are cultivated and later used for a variety of products beyond bouquets, including rose honey, tea, jam and even chocolate. The Tren Crucero leaves from downtown Quito and stops directly at the farm; the tour includes a lunch based on ingredients infused with roses.

Like a local
Many of the city's expatriates have made the move to the fast-growing, family-friendly Cumbaya Valley to escape Quito’s crowded city centre. Stroll the artsy shops and cafes around Cumbaya Square or bike or stroll along the 35km El Chaquinan, a nature trail that follows a railway line built a century ago.

Don't do this
Referring to a traditional white toquilla straw hat as a Panama hat will certainly earn a stern glare from any proud Ecuadorian. Long a local apparel staple, the well-known hat grew in popularity once Panamanian workers began wearing it during the construction of the Panama Canal. The name Panama hat stuck, and Ecuador lost one of its most traditional icons. In 2012, the art of weaving these hats was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage List, returning some of the glory to its Ecuadorian heritage.

Quito is relatively safe, but it is best to hail a taxi directly from your hotel or restaurant rather than pick one up on the street. Foreigners are likely to be overcharged without a price negotiated in advance via a hotel bellman or restaurant server.