Colombia was highlighted last month as a World Sustainable Tourism Destination by the World Tourism Organization.

As part of the Tourism as an Instrument for Development forum organized by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT), the WTO’s deputy director for the Americas, Alejandro Varela highlighted the generation of sustainable development processes which are helping to boost the numbers of tourists coming to this country. “Peace is one of the fundamental axes for developing sustainable tourism, because it is allows entrepreneurs and communities to take advantage of the opportunities,” said Varela. In a message to the forum, President Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia was facing a “golden opportunity” in regards to its tourism, and sector that drives both reconciliation and social development. “Tourism reduces social inequalities, promotes inclusion with gender equity, helps ecological preservation and can be a tool to fight climate change,” he said.

Deputy Minister Sandra Howard Taylor said the WTO’s recognition will allow Colombia to consolidate its place as a world-class tourism destination. Within the framework of the event, MinCIT also recognised eight municipalities for receiving their certification as sustainable tourism destinations. The destinations are Puerto Nariño (Amazonas); Cartagena (Bolívar); Mompox (Bolívar); Buga (Valle del Cauca); Jardín (Antioquia); Ciénaga (Magdalena); Villa de Leyva (Boyacá) and Parque Arvi in Medellín. Seven more destinations are in the process of receiving certi cation. Two beaches, Playa la Aguada in the National Park of Utría (Chocó) and Playa Palmera on Gorgona Island received a special recognition for community-led environmental protection projects.

Taylor also singled-out the government’s “Tourism and Peace” program which will reach 100 municipalities in 25 departments by 2018. The program aims to strengthen through concrete sustainable tourism projects communities affected by the internal conflict.

Colombia also wants the world to visit its beaches by consolidating them in the Blue Flag quality list given to countries as an eco-label. This distinction by the independent, non-profit organization Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) awards beaches around the world for meeting requirements on environmental education and information, water quality, eco-management and safety. Colombia has 195 potential beaches that could qualify for this international label.

The Blue Flag program is the world’s leading authority on beaches and marinas with more than 4,000 award-winning venues in 46 countries. Currently, 12 pre-pilot beaches are being singled-out for the implementation of the Blue Flag program in Colombia. For the cleanest, most pristine Blue Flag beaches on the continent, tourists must head to Brazil.