ANATO: Duque asks travel sector to “defend democracy”

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The 41st edition of Colombia’s Travel and Tourism fair – Vitrina Turística – opened its doors at Corferias as an in-person event for fully vaccinated participants, and welcomed to Bogotá business leaders, wholesale and boutique operators, airline and hotel agents, and representatives from Colombia’s 34 departments. The launch Wednesday recalled the last in-person event with edition 39, held at the same venue just weeks before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking to the same stage inside the capital’s exhibition grounds, President Iván Duque recalled how two years ago, he was pleased to announce that Colombia broke a tourism record with 4.5 million visitors, as well as the highest hotel occupancy rate in almost two decades. “Then, we met this invisible enemy COVID-19. No one in the world was prepared to face such a situation…no one,” he emphasized. “Health systems collapsed in the most developed countries, the largest airports in the world were abruptly closed, hotels were closed, and then we begin to see the ravages of this cruel disease, when it took loved ones from us, and planted an element of total uncertainty,” he said.

With the declaration of the National Health Emergency on March 21, 2020, Colombia’s tourism and travel sector, like every other in the world, was severed  by strict lockdowns and suspended air, land, and sea routes. “I remember how so many populist voices began to appear in the world – and Colombia was no exception – who tried to sow the idea of a false dilemma in the Colombian people: either health is protected or the economy is protected.”

According to Duque, with this false dilemma, many populists “rode their aspirations in the economic ashes of a society,” he added. “But we Colombians are not like that. And we managed to work decisively, apply the measures, decree isolation, and start thinking about a parallel reactivation.”

With an audience that broke into applause as President Duque highlighted his government’s many accomplishments, including the fact that 80% of Colombians have received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and almost 70% have completed a double dose scheme, the three-day event organized by ANATO (Association of the Travel and Tourism Operators), is showcasing the state of Florida as its International Guest, and department of Santander, domestic guest of honor.

Florida in 2021 received more tourists from Colombia than any other nation, setting yet another travel statistic for the country and the U.S.

The launch of ANATO 41’s Vitrina Turística coincided with the inaugural service of Ultra Air, a low-cost carrier that enters to compete in the budget-conscious market segment. President Duque welcomed the arrival of a new airline in Colombian skies, stating that “the arrival of a mega-investment project in the country sends a great message.”  But warned that the government is going to be “vigilant” with companies that offer low-cost services to capture resources, then look bad, and “pass on the responsibility to intermediaries in that relationship that exists between the airline and customer.”

On a final note after Colombia registered GDP growth for 2021 at 10.6%, President Duque highlighted that the country was ranked by the OECD as the best-performing economy, yet warned that economic growth, and democracy, cannot be taken for granted in Latin America. “It strikes me that in many countries that saw so much progress, they managed to instill in their people a contempt for what was already conquered, and compare themselves against aspirations triggered by populism, which sells easy solutions,” he said.

“We need the tourism sector to defend democracy and plant in the collective thinking of our country that we are not going to let populism take over Colombia because we have never done it as a society.” After a rousing wave of applause resounded from the auditorium, Duque went for his final walk as President through the main pavilion hall to admire the colorful booths from the country’s many regions and greet invited dignitaries.