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Cybercafes Popular Tourist Attractions in South America

The streets between Avenida Amazonas and Juan Leon Meron in Quito, Ecuador--home to many tourist hotels and restaurants--also host an astonishing density of Internet cafes: almost a dozen in a region of just a few blocks.

Many of these Internet cafes are less than three months old, such as the Interactive Cafe on Fosch street. It offers a mix of Internet access, coffee, snacks and even a book exchange

"We have seen almost 12,000 customers since we opened three months ago," said Paul Konz, manager of Interactive Cafe. "About 90 per cent of the Internet users are foreign tourists, the rest are local Ecuadorians."

The Cafe has 14 computers connected to the Net via a leased 64 Kbps line costing US$1,500 a month. "We hope to have as many as 20 computers next year," said Konz.

He hopes to break even by the end of next year, a projected window also shared by the owners of some of the other Internet cafes, like Aaron Stern, proprietor of the PapayaNet cybercafe.

"We get up to 300 people a day, about 25 per cent of whom are locals," claimed Stern. PapayaNets services are advertised in local newspapers, tourism brochures, and at the airport in Quito.

"In addition to freemail services like Hotmail, our customers are heavy users of IDTs Net2Phone service," said Stern. The Internet telephony service in Ecuador can help cut costs of calling Europe from an average of two dollars a minute down to about 30 cents a minute.

Charges for Internet access in Quito's cybercafes vary from 15,000 sucres to 20,000 sucres (1USD = 6,750 sucres).

However, stiff competition from neighbouring cybercafes is forcing some of them to expand their services into franchised operations in other cities in Ecuador as well as other countries in Latin America. Some are even beginning to offer Web solutions like Web site design and hosting.

Stern plans to extend his PapayaNet chain to Peru and Colombia. Oscar Imbaquingo, proprietor of InternetCafe, plans to set up cybercafes in the Ecuadorian cities of Cuenca and Guayaquil.

He has just begun setting up Web sites for local companies, and has about 12 clients--most of them tourist agencies.

Web solutions are also an integral part of the business model for Internet company AltesaNet, which runs a cybercafe called Monkey.

"We get a steady stream of tourists and locals to the cybercafe, but our real target is the e-commerce market in Ecuador," says Rene Crespo, president of AltesaNet.

The company has designed and hosted Web sites for over 70 clients in Quito, and also manages the online promotion for events like a local beauty pageant. The cybercafe is used to demonstrate Web marketing techniques for prospective clients, and to conduct training classes.

Other Internet cafes in the neighbourhood--like PlanetaNet--offer membership programs with discounted fees for regular Internet users.

"We also offer 10 to 15 per cent discounts for high school students," said Galo Fierro, proprietor of PlanetaNet. "We may even open an art gallery to attract tourists."

There is a slight slump in regular tourist traffic because of rumours that the nearby volcano Pichincha may become more active again, according to Fierro.

Given the dependence of the Ecuadorian economy on tourism, it seems clear that cybercafes are going to play an important role in the tourism segment--both for visiting tourists trying to communicate back home as well as tourism agencies hoping to learn more about the interests and preferences of tourists.



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