Medellin’s annual Flower Fair, held in early August, is one of many events attracting increasing numbers of visitors to Colombia.
As destinations emerging 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 Colombia), and Camilo Duque, Proexport’s leisure tourism director, visited Travel Agent to tell us why their country is growing for a wider range of travelers.
The Pacific Alliance free trade agreement has made it easy for travelers to move between neighboring countries without requiring an extra visa, Duque says. (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 says. “We’re not competing. This is complementary.” With a growing middle class and decreased unemployment in cities, he said, the country’s economy has stabilized, leading to increased development and safety. Duque notes that Colombia is number 11 on the list of emerging markets worldwide, and that its economy ranks third for the South/Central America region.
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 says, 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).
|Premium Suite at Casa San Agustin, Cartagena, one of many recent additions to Colombia’s burgeoning hotel scene.|
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 estimates, 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 new boutique hotels such as Design Hotels’ B.O.G Hotel in Bogota, and Casa San Agustin, a Leading Hotels member in Cartagena. (A government-sponsored 30-year tax exemption has attracted investors, German acknowledges.)
Hyatt reportedly has two Colombia hotels slated to debut next year while Marriott has three set to open over the next four years in Medellin, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga. Starwood has three set for an autumn 2014 debut—W Bogota, and Four Points by Sheraton hotels in Bogota and Barranquilla—with the Sheraton Cartagena scheduled to open in June of 2015. Earlier this year, Best Western announced that it is looking to add between two and four new construction projects annually in Colombia through 2019. The city of Cali has five new hotels in the pipeline.
Development has been strongest in the larger cities, 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 Avianca owner German Efromovich currently has more than seven hotels in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena and Pereira, with a total number of 1,066 rooms, and is planning further projects in Barranquilla and Bucaramanga. Hotel chains not currently represented in the country that are also rumored to be showing interest include Viceroy Hotel Group, MGM Hospitality, Melia Hotels International and Four Seasons.
In terms of airlift, Colombia has 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 relatively quick: JetBlue’s service from New York is about five hours, German says.