Gabriel Alvarez is Deputy General Manager of Aranwa Hotels Resorts & Spas, a growing hotel developer that is ridingthe wave of expanding tourism in Peru and the rapidly developing economies of Latin America. I've talked before about the booming tourism business in Peru and wanted to get his insiders' take on what's happening in this dynamic destination.
Luxury Latin America: What was the spark that got you started with the Aranwa Hotels projects? What led up to that?
Gabriel Alvarez: Travelling around Peru, seeing the lack of high quality hotels and tourism infrastructure in its different regions was an eye-opener. We realized we had the service and healthcare know-how as an advantage from our competitors and it was a very interesting opportunity. Also, my family's passion for art, culture and wellness (expressed in our healthcare upbringing) definitely contributed towards the signature approach we bring to hospitality.
Peru tourism seems to keep growing each year, no matter what is going on in the worldwide economy. Why is that?
The country has had over a decade of sustained political stability and overall economic growth. This has contributed to place Peru in the international scene, exposing our greatest strengths in the eyes of the world. For instance, Machu Picchu continues to amaze the world, as the lost city of the Incas. It is a great cultural heritage which attracts people everywhere.
In order to continue growing, more product differentiation is needed, and we should not only focus on country brand, but on inner workings, learn from experience and from other countries such as Mexico.
We have a review of your Aranwa Cusco hotel, of course, but naturally you would like to get people to spend more time at the one in the Sacred Valley. What advantages are there for tourists of staying in the valley instead of just passing through?
The first thing one will notice about the valley is the lower altitude and how much easier it is to walk around than in the city of Cusco, we're talking 2800 meters against 3500 meters. That enables one's body to acclimate and after a couple of days in the valley you can take on Cusco easily. Further, most of the archeological sites in the "top 5" places to visit are in the Sacred Valley, such as the Pisac Market, Maras Salt Mines, Moray amphitheatre, Ollantaytambo, and the train to Machu Picchu. Tourists can save lots of transportation time if they stay in the Sacred Valley rather than in Cusco. Adventure activities such as rafting, hiking and the intrepid Via Ferrata are new additions on top of the usual ones.
If you look at it from a wellness perspective, then the valley is definitely your top choice. The area is called "sacred" because of the climate it has and how crops are easily able to grow and flourish within. What is more, in colonial times women from Cusco used to go to the valley to give birth, as the experience was much more manageable. The town of Urquillos, next to our property, has a mud that is well known for its healing properties. Hence, for wellness-focused extended stays, which we provide, the valley is an ideal location.
Peru has a great draw in the archeological site of Machu Picchu and now it's time to celebrate the 100 years since Hiram Bingham first shined a light on it for the world. So the crowds will surely keep coming. How is the government and the hospitality industry dealing with the ever-larger crowds and pressure on this fragile site?
The hospitality industry is always the first to respond, as there is less bureaucracy and higher incentives. Already one is seeing renowned chains investing in different tourist locations such as Chachapoyas in the jungle; or improving already existing destinations such as the cluster of hotels that has formed in the bay of Paracas.
With regards to the government, more access routes need to be prepared for Machu Picchu, as well as highlighting areas around Cusco and other tourist routes, such as Choquequirao. The WTO recently gave an award to the Moche Trail, necessary to decentralize focus.
Colca Canyon, Peru
I understand the next Aranwa hotel to open will be in the Colca Canyon region, a few hours from Arequipa. Why did you choose that area for the next project and what do you like most about it?
The Colca canyon is one of the most tranquil destinations in Peru, and one of the most popular ones after Machu Picchu. However, there are few high-end hotels at the moment in the region, and an ever-growing affluence of tourists.
Our location is ideal, just off Coporaque, on the right margin of the river, with preferential views of the riverbed, mountains and foliage. An old mill welcomes you into the property, spread on a half-moon shape to better adequate to the natural scenery. Forty rooms including private cabañas, all with fantastic views, will mix with a spa and a small chapel, giving the hotel a feeling of a small town in the middle of the Colca Valley.
How do you like to drink your pisco, and what's your favorite brand?
I started out with pisco sours as pretty much everyone else does, then I went through a phase of trying to drink it neat or on the rocks… however that didn't last long. Right now I'm loving the chilcano. It's simple, refreshing and has endless variations. Plenty of restaurants and bars in Lima and Cusco have started experimenting with it, when you make it with a good Viñas de Oro Quebranta there's no going wrong.
Interview conducted in July, 2011 by editor Timothy Scott
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