Tourism to Colombia surges three years after COVID-19 outbreak

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Three years since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed on March 8, 2020, and pandemic that quarantined the travel sector, the numbers of foreign tourists are surging to the extent that during January, 454.727 visited the country.

This number, for one month alone, represents a 63% increase over the same period last year, and up 18% compared to the same month in 2019.

According to the Office of Economic Studies of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT) of the 454,727 foreigners who stepped foot on Colombian soil, 319,299 are non-resident foreigners; 63,626 are Colombians who reside abroad, and 71,802 are cruise ship passengers. The United States is the country with the highest in flow of visitors to Colombia, registering a participation of 23.4% in the market, followed by other nations in Latin America and Caribbean.

The report elaborated with data from the country’s migration entity, Migración Colombia, confirms that in 2022 the number of non-resident visitors stood at 4.606,915, up 232% compared to 2020, and 114% more compared to 2021.

Setting a historic record during the second year of President Iván Duque’s administration, air traffic also showed a significant recovery last year with close to 47 million domestic and international trips. The numbers of visitors to Colombia’s National Parks also increased 34% between December 2022 and January 2023, compared to the same period in 2021; and accommodation occupancy rates were 55%, one of the best rates in recent years.

The much-needed boost for the country’s tourism sector has also been accompanied by greater competition by low-cost carriers to expand destinations within Colombia and abroad. As Viva Air remains grounded as a result of a seven-month delay by the country’s Civil Aeronautics Authority to approve a merger with the country’s largest carrier Avianca leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded at home and overseas, Avianca insists that a majority stake in Viva Air for US$240 million will salvage the airline. “Airlines are fragile businesses, and the pandemic hasn’t helped. More than 7 month ago we asked to be allowed to help Viva Air to be part of the solution,” wrote Avianca’s CEO Adrian Neuhauser.

While Aeronautica Civil held back on the merger despite Viva’s deepening financial crisis, the same government entity this week authorized “immediate” entry into the domestic market of the ultra low-cost Latin American carrier JetSmart.

JetSmart, owned by the US investment fund Indigo Partners, will operate 11 Airbus A320neo on 27 domestic routes, including daily flights from Bogotá to Medellín, Cartagena, Cali, Cúcuta, Barranquilla, Pereira, Santa Marta, Monteria and San Andrés. The airline was founded in Santiago, Chile, and owns the Argentine subsidiary JetSmart Argentina.

While Colombian skies have become politicized over Avianca’s acquisition of a low-cost pioneer in the country, on the ground, MINCIT’s numbers are encouraging. The challenge will be maintaining these high numbers in the months ahead, given on-going security risks in many regions of the country, and fears of a global economic downturn.