The phrase “Who let the cat out of the bag?” adapts well to the numbers released September in a report by the World Tourism Organization, and which claims that tourism world-wide continues to increase, despite economic uncertainty and ethnic conflicts.
The report points to several developing nations, including Colombia, which has witnessed an impressive increase in the numbers of ‘extranjeros’ entering the country for travel and leisure. According to the national government, during the first six months of 2014, 1’946.352 international visitors came to Colombia, or 10,800 every day. These numbers are on par with the projected 4 million expected by the government for the full year, and a marked increase of close to 300,000 over 2013.
The arrival of foreigners to Colombia has been helped by greater connectivity with the outside world, as airlines continue to open more routes and for- eign carriers look for slots at major hubs, such as Medellín’s Rio Negro aiport and Cartagena’s Rafael Nuñez. The launch in July of Avianca’s four day a week service to London’s Heathrow and the arrival of Portugal’s TAP have helped boost the country’s tourism perspectives; and rumors are circulating that a leading Emirates-based airline may be exploring a Colombia route.
The expansion of the hotel sector has also been welcomed as good news for a country, as more chains continue to set up operations in the capital. During the last decade some 27,000 hotel rooms were built to accommodate the business and leisure traveler. Even though this expansion may seem overly aggressive, during the next couple of years some 7,000 more rooms are expected to be finished, especially with a big boost in confidence by the Grand Hyatt and its 5-star resort complex in Cartagena.
While Cartagena and Santa Marta receive a generous portion of the seasonal holidayers, other destinations in the interior of the country must still try and sell themselves at international tourism trade fairs.
Colombia looks to diversify its tourism away from the traditional “selling points” of carnival and festivals. One of the areas which offers untapped potential is sports and the possibility of this country hosting a major PGA golf tournament soon. The country’s rich biodiversity is also another important draw, and last year, foreigners began venturing more into the outback, to remote natural wonders such as Caño Cristales with its red rivers, and the Cocuy’s glacial peaks. Both of these destinations less than a decade ago, were considered danger zones to anyone carrying a foreign passport. Even though it may take several more years for Colombia to reach its full tourism potential, the number of foreigners arriving is encouraging and a clear indictation that with more investment in connectivity, no place will be off the beaten path or off-limits.