Colombia: A modern day El Dorado
Few sectors in Colombia have seen such wild and rapid change as the tourism sector, widely touted as having among the most potential in the world. Each year more visitors arrive and it’s little surprise why. And the country is reaping the benefits. In 2018, Colombia brought in US$6.6 billion from tourism, including air travel, up 12.7 percent on the year before, according to the Central Bank of Colombia, making it the country’s third largest generator of foreign capital, and the first outside of the energy and mines sector. And it’s not just leisure tourism where Colombia is striding forward. According to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Colombia ranks in the top 30 countries worldwide for holding conventions, having organized 147 in 2018. The country rose three positions in 2017 going from 32 to 29, above Russia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. Responsible for promoting tourism is national agency Procolombia, which boasts offices all over the globe.
Like the explorers of yesteryear, Procolombia is working to open up previously unexplored regions of the country. Tourists will then be able to immerse themselves in Colombia’s vast southern stretches of jungle, enjoying the nation’s competitive advantages in the sustainable tourism scene. Projects are underway in the provinces of Caquetá, Putumayo, Casanare, Vichada, Guaviare, Guainía and Meta.
The beauty of Colombia’s nature is a little secret, but now people are beginning to see just how rich it is. It is the world’s premier destination for bird biodiversity – for the third year running – with 1920 different species. Costas Christ, editor of National Geographic Magazine, described Colombia as Noah’s Ark, owing to the incredible variety of its flora and fauna, and the country’s role in protecting it. Earlier this year, Procolombia signed agreements with international organizations, including USAID, to promote both the conservation of biodiversity and the portfolio of ecotourism experiences worldwide. And Colombia’s feted heritage is not just natural but cultural. With so many indigenous tribes and languages – each with their own unique values, beliefs and natural environments – Colombia offers experiences that go well beyond the everyday.
Part of this cultural heritage can be seen in the diversity of musical rhythms across the country, which Procolombia is working to promote through its “Visit Colombia: Feel the Rhythm” campaign. The cities of Cali, Bogotá, Cartagena, Barranquilla or Medellín all boast carnivals and festivals which grow each year. The universal language of music allows travelers in Colombia to connect their physical journey with an intellectual, emotional and spiritual one. And bringing tourists to such far flung regions will also bring them investment, generating social projects. Procolombia is betting on the environment and on local communities. The country has demonstrated a determined commitment in both these spheres, having actively participated in global initiatives such as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, declared by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Specialized Agency for Tourism.
Colombia was mired in conflict for five decades of bitter civil war, affecting both the cities and swaths of the countryside. Roads were impassible and vast regions considered unsafe. But now, in part owing to a peace accord signed in 2016 and implemented by the current Duque administration, a whole new world of touristic opportunity is opening up, supported by Procolombia. In zones where ex-combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are in reintegration programs, various touristic projects are underway, to encourage reincorporation, reconciliation, and territorial development. Work is currently underway in seven of these reintegration zones. Tourism and peacebuilding go together in Colombia.
More tourists will come each year to Colombia, and it has rolled out the welcome mat.
Part of the country’s cultural heritage can be seen in the diversity of musical rhythms