Colombia’s Tourist Boom Continues

Guativita, heart of Colombia's tourism industry Credit: Richard McColl

Guativita, heart of Colombia’s tourism industry Credit: Richard McColl

South America’s Surprise Package Continues to Grow

Asked to think of Colombia, most people will imagine a war-torn country overrun with gun wielding cocaine cartels. This image couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite a long running and well publicised internal conflict that renders vast swathes of the country out of bounds, Colombia continues to exceed projections and expectations with regards to its current tourism boom.

Naturally, figures – collected by Colombian Immigration Authorities and the Banco de La Republica – show that a large portion of tourists to Colombia are from the neighbouring countries of Ecuador and Venezuela but more strikingly, despite US State Department warnings, citizens of the United States make up the second largest number, 235,000 individuals, and represent 22 per cent of the total annual tally. Out of the 1,100,000 foreigners that arrived in Colombia in 2007 roughly 17 per cent came from European locations.

This tourism bonanza that is a veritable tale of rags to riches for Colombia is a turnaround from the dark days of steady narco-terrorism headed by the infamous cartels of Cali and Medellin. Colombia, long a major cruise-liner destination has re-established itself in recent years pulling away from the grim figures in 2003 that saw only 42,600 passengers choosing to come this way to exceeding 126,000 just four years later in 2007.

Proexport – A Colombian institution set up to promote Colombian exports, international tourism in Colombia and foreign investment in Colombia – is supremely optimistic in the possible growth in years to come despite gloomy prospects of a worldwide recession predicted by experts.

Said Angela Maria Claro the Sub Director of Information for Proexport, “Colombia’s touristic growth is well above that of the World growth as a whole and we are looking into specific profiles of tourist such as one who stays longer and spends more money.”

“We are encouraging cruise-line companies to start their tours here in Colombia and this will mean that their passengers can come to a place like Cartagena and spend a few days before boarding the ship and then on return at the end of their voyage they stay a further few days. Alongside this we are actively promoting Colombia as an unrivalled location for film production, for example last year saw the release of Love in the Time of Cholera filmed in Cartagena.”

Certainly figures show that Colombia’s tourism industry is growing but are targets being set at lofty ideals? Proexport aims to hit the 4 million tourist mark in 2010. Given that Colombia’s tourist growth from 2005 to 2006 was 13,1 per cent and then from 2006 to 2007 was 13,6 per cent that means that the increase in 2008 must be an overwhelming 29,8 per cent.

It may be too much. If the projected recession in the US hits as predicted then surely the all valuable US tourist will defer from holidaying in 2008.

Claro thinks otherwise: “The US market is one that includes 250 million people and we haven’t even scratched the surface.”Perhaps Colombia is perfectly prepared for the economic downturn…after all the country has nurtured an unprecedented tourism boom in recent years despite being in the midst of a 40 year old internal conflict.

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