As new destinations in Latin America develop their appeal for both leisure and business travel, different nations are reaching out for new kinds of visitors. Luis German Restrepo, executive director USA for Proexport Colombia (the government agency in charge of promoting trade, tourism and investment in the country) and Camilo Duque, the leisure tourism director (both pictured right, with German on the left), explained why Colombia is growing for a wider range of travelers.
With a growing middle class and decreased unemployment in cities, he continued, the country’s economy has stabilized, leading to increased development and safety. Duque noted that Colombia is #11 on the list of emerging markets worldwide, and that its economy is #3 for the South/Central America region.
For travelers, the Pacific Alliance free trade agreement makes it easy for travelers to move between neighboring countries without requiring an extra visa. (The current member states are Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Costa Rica began the process of joining the Alliance in February.) Some embassies of allied countries will even share offices with other members in order to facilitate travel throughout the region, making it easy to combine a business trip with a leisure excursion. “We’re trying to promote different cultures and experiences,” German said. “We’re not competing. This is complementary.”
By the Numbers
Significantly, business and event-focused travel dominated Colombia’s inbound scene in 2013, with events attracting a 30 percent growth in visitors over 2012 and business travel in general seeing an increase of more than 50 percent.
In the past 10 years, German said, travel to Colombia has grown “dramatically”: Close to 4 million tourists came to the country last year (a growth of well over 7 percent from 2012), and he expects that goal to be reached in 2014. In the last three years, international arrival of tourists has consistently been increasing.
South and North America are the main regions of origin for Colombia's foreign travelers, contributing 70.9 percent of the total foreign arrivals. In 2013, the main cities visited by Americans in Colombia were Bogota (53.9 percent), Cartagena (12.5 percent), and Medellin (10.6 percent).
The growing travel industry throughout the country has been assisted by improved infrastructure: Over the past 10 years, more than 15,000 new rooms have opened, German estimated, and close to 7,000 new rooms are slated to open this year. Major international hospitality companies--including Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Radisson, InterContinental and Hyatt--are opening alongside local businesses and boutique hotels. (A government-sponsored 30-year tax exemption has attracted investors, German acknowledged.) TopHotelProjects reported that Hyatt has two hotels currently slated to open next year in the country, with the city of Cali set to get five new hotels with 777 rooms. Marriott, meanwhile, has three hotels set to open over the next four years in Medellín, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga.
Development has been strongest in cities like Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin and Barranquilla, but regional properties have also increased in popularity as visitors look beyond the major business hubs. Converted coffee estates have been adapted into boutique hotels, German said, and coffee trails (much like wine trails in other regions) are a popular group option.
Colombian hotel chain Movich Hotels & Resorts from the Avianca owner Germán Efromovich is currently has more than seven hotels in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Cartagena and Pereira with a total number of 1,066 rooms and is planning further projects in Barranquilla and Bucaramanga. The report also suggested that hotel chains not currently represented in the country are also showing interest, including Viceroy Hotel Group, MGM Hospitality, Meliá Hotels International and Four Seasons.
In terms of airlift, Colombia currently connects 216 flights per week between eight U.S. cities (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Atlanta, Washington, Dallas, New York, and Houston) and seven Colombian cities. Most of these flights are fairly quick: JetBlue’s service from New York is about five hours, German said.