My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any comments or suggestions, please write them in our comments section below. Thank you, and have a fantastic trip to Colombia!
Tourism in a global context
According to UNCTAD, tourism is responsible for 10% of the world’s gross domestic product and creates one in 10 jobs worldwide.
Of course, these observations are not evenly distributed across the world. There are countries that have little tourism and countries that base a large part of their economic output on tourism.
With these dimensions, however, one must not forget the positive and negative externalities of tourism. Because just showing big numbers isn’t always positive. The example of Barcelona shows how entire streets have been converted into Airbnb apartments and important living space has been removed from the local population.
Development of tourism in Colombia
International tourism is still very young in Colombia. It was only since the country was pacified in the early 2000s and armed groups in peripheral regions were pushed back that this huge opportunity opened up for Colombia.
When I visited Colombia for the first time in 2009, the country was slowly appearing on the map of backpackers and there were already hostels at various destinations. Nevertheless, there were still many checkpoints all over the country and the security situation was still very tense and no one was ready for large tourist flows.
As a pale, tall, and blue-eyed Swiss, I was truly exotic in Colombia and I was recognized from afar as a tourist.
When I returned to Bogota in 2015 to start my MBA, I was impressed by the development. In a few years, the tourism industry had developed and offers for luxury travel were also emerging.
By 2020, the number of international tourists should increase to over 4 million a year. In 2007 this number was only around 1.2 million.
My experience in 5 years of tourism in Colombia
Through my travels across the country, I got to know many young providers of tourist services. Furthermore, I have met many people who sooner or later intend to gain a foothold in the tourism sector.
I would like to show a general development using an example. The department of Meta is located in the Llanos, east of Bogota, and is about the size of Portugal. The total population is around 1 million people.
Paramilitaries and guerrillas occupied the department. As a result of the peace treaty, the department was left by the FARC in 2017 and has not been under the pressure of militants since.
I was able to see how the residents of the department organized and how the tourist potential was quickly recognized. Committed citizens have developed a strategy for nature tourism and bird watching. Hotel operators, local tour guides, carriers, restorers, and other related sectors were organized too.
Although there are not immediately huge tourist flows to the region, a positive development can certainly be observed.
What can tourism do in Colombia?
Colombia is a natural wonder of biodiversity and part of the tourist potential surely arises from this fact. Regions that were previously occupied by militant troops are now safe and still very original.
These regions in particular have the ability to capitalize on the above circumstances. Sustainable tourism would not only result in income for an entire value chain, but would also protect the economic base, nature.
Why is that not working properly so far?
Colombia has many problems and many causes are linked. Corruption and lethargy are certainly crucial factors.
The nice thing about tourism is that corruption can hardly intervene in the value chain because the money usually flows from the customer directly to the service provider. Corrupt officials are therefore not very interested in tourism development because there is no direct cash benefit.
Hence, political commitments to tourism are mostly just empty words. But as soon as you can earn something underhand through a fracking project or overexploitation in a national park, action is taken accordingly. The common good is unfortunately a foreign word in Colombia due to its culture.
The tourism sector is still lacking in economic strength and organization to be able to exert sufficient pressure on politics.
How can you support a positive development as a traveler to Colombia?
In order to concentrate as much of the added value on Colombia, you should book your trip directly in the country. There are now enough trustworthy travel companies in Colombia.
There are hotels and accommodations from Colombian providers and you don’t necessarily have to stay in the hotels of an international hotel chain.
Also, buy local as many times as you can. There are some amazing national brands with good-quality products and competitive prices, from small restaurants and crafts shops to sustainable fashion boutiques.
Colombia Travel Guides
Colombia has a lot of fantastic destinations to offer, find out about them in my various travel guides.
- Share your personal experience in the comments so that other travelers can also benefit from your knowledge.
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