Colombia’s national tourism board ProColombia shares its strategic approach to growing its events sector.
Colombia, South America’s fourth largest economy, is moving ahead with growth according to the OECD. The country is projected to pick up to about 3%, as lower interest rates, stronger infrastructure spending, lower corporate taxes and higher oil prices all boost investment.
Private consumption is also strengthening, as falling inflation lifts real wages. Exports are improving on the back of a stronger outlook for trading partners, and unemployment is falling.
Traditionally, the focus of exports has been in the mining and energy sector, as well as in coffee, flowers, and bananas. Now efforts are being concentrated in six areas: the agrofood sector, IT, metal-mechanic and related industries, fashion, chemicals and life sciences, and tourism.
Tourism, including business tourism, is one of the country’s spearheads.
According to the Colombian Central Bank, during 2017 the sector was the second biggest income generator and one providing 1.9m jobs last year.
The government is also prioritising four tourism sub sectors: culture, nature, wellness, and conventions. It also claims the first results of this strategy are “excellent”.
Accordingly, there has been significant private and public investments in infrastructure projects such as airports, hotels, convention centres, and fairgrounds.
The country has 27 convention centres and 455 hotels that comply with the standards for accommodating congresses and events.
The four destinations with the highest international air connectivity are Bogotá (726 flights a week), Medellín (130), Cali (67) and Cartagena (65). Twenty-four airlines have air connectivity with the country.
Aside from traditional conference and events centres and destinations, Colombia has identified 117 ‘non-traditional’ locations that it promotes for ‘unique event experiences’, such as Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.
The government has invested US$20bn in its Infrastructure Revolution and it claims its programme of construction of fourth generation road infrastructure, tertiary roads and the construction or renovation of airports has been 60% executed.
During 2010 and 2017, about 180 hotels opened in the country, 123 of them belonging to chains. Accor, Four Seasons, Wyndham, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Sonesta, Atton and Best Western all have properties in cities such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cucuta, Santa Marta, and Bucaramanga.
The state tourism authority ProColombia also claims the sector received investments close to US$2.1bn thanks to tax incentives.
The government also says it has made recent investments of around US$80m for the construction and renovation of convention centres and tradefair grounds.
ProColombia has also emphasized the increasing opportunities brought by the peace accord legacy.
Recent international events hosted in Colombia have included the Central American and Caribbean Games (Barranquilla, 2018), the World Economic Forum (Medellín 2016), and UNWTO twice (Cartagena 2007 and Medellin 2015).
Last February, about 30 laureates arrived at the Nobel Peace Prize Summit in Bogotá, and One Young World, the most important youth gathering in the world, was organised in October 2017 in Bogota.
The pipeline of major conferences/events lined up for 2018 and beyond include a Colombian bid to host the ICCA Congress 2021.
Indeed, according to ICCA’s statistics, in 2017 Colombia held 142 qualifying events, placing it third in Latin America in the country rankings. In terms of attendees, Colombia is second in Latin America.
This year the Global Incentive Summit is going to take place in Cartagena and the Best Cities Global Forum in Bogota.
The ProColombia agency adds that, for congresses, Health, Education, Science, and Technology are the sectors that are providing the most business.
“It is necessary to keep working on growing our country brand and closing the gap between the country’s reality and the perception of it abroad,” an agency spokesperson tells CMW.
“Our main value is our people: the hospitality, the joy and the capability we have as Colombians to make foreign travellers feel as home.
“We are going in the right direction, as the numbers speak for themselves, with 142 events.”
Colombia, land of Sabrosura, is the slogan of the current global tourism campaign. Sabrosura is a ’tasty’ expression encapsulating Colombia’s music, rhythm and joy of its people and landscape.
Colombia is connected directly with 26 countries in the world and 24 airlines have air connectivity with the country.
ProColombia acknowledges work still needs to be done on the country brand to close the gap between the country’s reality and the perception of it abroad.
“Once that is done,” the agency says, “our main value is our people: the hospitality, the joy and the capability we own as Colombians to make feel the foreign travellers as home. We are in the right direction as the numbers speak for themselves.”
Other numbers going in the right direction include Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows growing 63% last year. And in May 2018 Colombia became the 37th OECD member, the third in Latin America alongside Mexico and Chile.