Colombia will host its annual travel and tourism fair – Anato – from April 28 to 30, just over a year since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Edition 40 will take place in Bogotá and first in-house event for the industry’s national and international representatives. Argentina has been named the guest nation of honor.

Covering more than 200 square meters of exhibition space at Corferias and delegates representing a host of countries, Anato looks to revive Colombia as a world-class travel destination despite closed overland borders with the declaration of the national health emergency, extended lockdowns, curfews and cancellations by carriers of direct flights across the Americas, United Kingdom and continental Europe.

From showcasing the folklore and gastronomy of the country’s 32 departments, as well as hotels from the most luxurious to those catering to budget-conscious travelers, the start of mass vaccinations across the country is a necessary jab-in-the-arm for a sector that shed more than 85,000 jobs in 2020 – or 21% of the total tourism workforce.

As historic landmarks and national parks reopen to receive visitors, the country’s connectivity with the outside world remains precarious given that the country’s largest airline, Avianca, announced Monday that it will suspend 24 international routes, among them, flights from Bogotá to Fort Lauderdale; San Juan; Washington; Orlando, Los Angeles, London and Barcelona. From its El Salvador base, the airline will suspend flights to Houston, Toronto, Mexico City, Miami and Dallas. While airlines are operating with reduced fleets to off-set huge losses incurred by the pandemic, cruise ships have been allowed back to Colombian ports, yet many large operators have delayed their sailing schedules, or shortened their time at sea, over concerns over renewed outbreaks with variants among their staff and passengers.

During the last edition of Anato in February 2020, and the month traditionally associated with the fair, the Colombian government estimated that Cartagena would receive 424,000 passengers, as well as 153,000 crew members from more than 250 ships on a Caribbean itinerary. These cruise ships would have left US$63 million for the colonial port.

Promoted as the “new gold” of the Colombian economy, tourism revenue soared in 2019 to reach US$7 billion, the result of 4.5 million tourists, and who contributed in boosting the country’s GDP by 4%. While the impact of the pandemic in Colombia’s increasingly tourism-dependent economy also saw the closure of restaurants and other service-related companies, one of the country’s most coveted destinations, Islas San Andrés was struck on November 16, 2020, by the Category 5 hurricane Iota, leaving wide-spread destruction across the archipelago. Two months into the reconstruction of the island’s tourism infrastructure, visitors are slowly returning given affordable airfares with the country’s low-cost airlines.

According to Viva Air, the Medellín-based airline transported 100,000 passengers between January and February to San Andrés, reaching a load factor on its A-320s of 94%. “We ratify our commitment to San Andrés as a strategic destination and are firm in our intention to contribute to the economic reactivation of the country through air inclusion,” reads a statement from the airline’s CEO Félix Antelo. The expansion of Viva Air’s domestic routes during an unprecedented crisis for the airline industry heralds the launch of two new Colombian airlines, Starblue Airlines and Ultra Air.

The addition of these start-ups to the nation’s aviation portfolio raises the total number of domestic carriers to 10. The optimism in a fast reactivation of the country’s travel and tourism sector is first being felt in the sky, and on the ground, the Colombian Government will be aggressively promoting the country at Anato as one that’s open – and above all – safe for all. The challenge for now, is if the international business and leisure travelers will follow.