Sixteen months after the last travel delegation abandoned Bogotá’s exhibition and trade grounds Corferias, the Colombian capital is ready to welcome travel industry professionals with the 40th edition of Vitrina Túristica, the county’s annual travel and tourism fair organized by the Colombian Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (ANATO). But a lot has happened in sixteen months, and as many governments remain at odds as to how to safely reopen borders closed with the pandemic, Colombia is all geared up to reactivate the tourism sector and lure back international visitors with an enviable slate of world-class destinations.

This year’s event, however, is closed to the general public, and while industry insiders will be able to meet and cut business deals in person, biosecurity protocols (from directional arrows to crowd limits, use of obligatory face masks and wall-to-wall hand sanitizers), are a constant reminder that the travel sector has not yet emerged victorious from coronavirus. And even though the majority of domestic tourism destinations have been lauded by prestigious magazines and ranked bestsellers on the international travel circuit, economic recovery from extended quarantines of the coronavirus health emergency could extend for years, especially for small hotel owners and independent tour operators.

As Colombia regains its tourism bearings, recent civil unrest in the country with the national strike, compounded by international condemnation of human rights abuses by security forces against protestors, may dissuade many first-time visitors from choosing this country as a safe and politically stable destination. Justified fears that the spread of new variants could result in further lockdowns, as well as suspension of air travel are just some of other risks the national government faces in promoting the country to the outside world

Independently of the many business opportunities that are forged during ANATO’s three-day event, and which opens June 16, it is also a showcase of the country’s main entry for foreign visitors – Bogotá – and while many monuments had to be stored for safekeeping as a result of roiling vandalism that besieged the capital during 43 days of Paro Nacional, the Colombian capital urgently needs some degree of normal by hosting congresses and events that attract foreign investment. “Events like these fill us with hope and optimism” stated Mayor López during her keynote address on Wednesday. “We have faced the worst crisis in the history of Colombia and nobody could have envisioned so many challenges worsening at the same time,” she added. “Bogotá and Colombia cannot continue in a paralysis of polarizing political discourse.” For Mayor López, Bogotá’s economic recovery depends on three ingredients: self-protection, vaccinations and social justice. The district will also invest COP$10,000 million (US$3.4 million) to boost its tourism potential.

For edition 40 of ANATO, Argentina was chosen as guest nation of honor, and the city/region of Bogotá the domestic nominee, both destinations, however, remain in the grip of rising third wave COVID-19 infections. Addressing a socially distanced audience during the inauguration, President Iván Duque announced that coronavirus income payments will be extended through August and a new tax reform bill presented to Congressional lawmakers next month. And in keeping with the government’s line that tourism is the country’s “new gold,” President Duque highlighted that in 2021, Colombia can become the “jewel in Latin America’s tourism crown.” Words met with applause, but hardly a confidence boost with the international community as per-day COVID-19 deaths near 600.

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