Machu Picchu centennial signals boom times for Cusco’s hotels

Visitors in Cusco (Photo: Andina)

It was not so long ago that Cusco’s hotel industry was hurting. According to El Comercio, the Cusco tourism industry lost $236 million from the combined weight of the strikes of 2009 and the flooding and landslides in 2010.

Combined with the lingering effects of the world financial crisis, and Cusco’s hotels were having a tough time.

Fast-forward one year, and Cusco’s hoteliers have a reason to be cheerier. Bookings are way up, and the centennial celebrations for Machu Picchu are driving much of that demand.

The festivities, which are set to climax on Thursday, have attracted $40 million of additional tourism revenue to the Cusco region this month, according to an analysis by Gestión.

While the average July brings 50,000 visitors to Cusco, this month 70,000 are expected to descend upon this city. The average visitor is also expected to lengthen his or her stay by one extra night, due to the celebrations, increasing hotel revenue by 30% per visit.

It’s not only the city of Cusco that has benefited from the demand. Visits to the site of Machu Picchu are expected to increase by about 30% on Thursday, and many people are booking hotel rooms closer to the ruins. Available hotel rooms in Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes and the sanctuary itself are thin on the ground right now.

“The hotels are already full. Right now, there aren’t even rooms for those of us attending the ceremony. There are very few beds available; I estimate that the occupancy rate in Aguas Calientes is 90%,” Carlos Canales, president of the chamber of tourism, told Gestión on Monday.

Experts don’t expect demand to drop off-sharply after July. Visits in August and September are expected to rise about 15% year-over-year, and all of the Machu Picchu centennial publicity in the foreign media will continue to pay dividends for years. Gestión reports that Machu Picchu is already receiving more visitors from elsewhere in Latin America.

Many hotel chains are now betting on the continued growth of demand for hotel rooms in the Imperial City. JW Marriott will open a 153-room hotel in the city in 2012, the same year that Orient Express will convert a Nazarene convent into a luxury hotel and Inkaterra will open two boutique hotels in the Sacred Valley.

With the rebound in bookings this year, and countless hours of good publicity from the centennial, it looks like Cusco’s hotel industry will be leaving its dark days behind it.