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

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