North American carriers were among the first to announce a return to Colombia after September 1, 2020, with the gradual reopening of Colombia’s main gateway for visitors – El Dorado airport. Almost every major global carrier that had an established foothold in the South American country followed suit, and passenger load factors now are reaching pre-pandemic levels. While international airlines continue to include Colombia in route expansion, especially those that service important gateways such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Madrid, and London, with the start of the end-of-year travel season, strict biosecurity protocols will continue to be enforced as well as vaccine cards, QR certificates for international travelers.
With the travel industry still gripped by uncertainty as to which countries have opened completely, while others are enforcing quarantine for the unvaccinated, Colombia had rejoined the international community with air and sea connectivity, regaining a much-needed tourism booster. Among the challenges that still remain is government promotion of destinations that witnessed high levels of infections and deaths.
While we are still riding waves of infection, the traveling public has been quick to take to the road with the lifting of all restrictions, and while it is never late to envision that next outdoor adventure, many tourists are still keen to self-isolate in a national park rather than face bustling urban crowds of Medellín and Bogotá.
Quarantine gave Colombia’s historic sites time to erase some of the human footprint and this is a strong selling point for travel agents with environmentally sustainable destinations. But there is also the question that cannot be answered at this juncture: Will international tourists look at Colombia as a destination that ranks high on their post-pandemic bucket list, or will they flock to countries that jump-started the post-pandemic with aggressive sales promotion?
Getting a late start on the international tourism circuit after one of the world’s most extended lockdowns and tinted image of Colombia as “the land of magic realism,” may seem still too real for travelers in search of a safe haven. Other selling points as “the happiest nation on earth” appear ludicrous given the human tragedy that has unfolded across South America. Then, data from the Ministry of Finance that unemployment in Colombia will surpass 17% for the second half of the year, and 7 million will lose their middle-class footing to join the ranks of the poor. Nation promotion at this moment seems nonsensical – even bizarre.
Colombia has plenty of potential in drawing-in international visitors, and few nations can match its natural settings and attractions. But above all, Colombian hospitality is the country’s most famous asset and one tourists remember. While travel is on hold until September, beaches and mountains remain, so too, charming villages home to diverse peoples and traditions. These will not be lost to coronavirus, and as the floodgates of the sector inch their way open, the many citizens who depend on tourism for their livelihoods will be more grateful and welcoming to outsiders than ever. And this is hard to beat.