Flavia Santoro Trujillo, president of ProColombia, the agency in charge of promoting international tourism to Colombia, recognizes that many destinations point to their people as being the number-one reason their country is so alluring, but Santoro Trujillo puts an emphasis on this, noting that Colombians are “truly un encanto, truly enchanting. You will always feel welcome in Colombia.”
And as we start entering a post-pandemic reality, Santoro Trujillo is very proud of how the country has fared. “We have been working very hard since the onset of the pandemic,” says Santoro Trujillo. In fact, at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) world summit, Colombia was recognized as the eighth country in the world with the best tourism recovery figures in the post-pandemic, based on the number of international air bookings.
“In these past four years,” she says, “we have launched or supported 98 international routes coming into Colombia—10 cities in Colombia to 24 cities in the world. So, we are really doing great in connectivity and that allows us to have a great performance throughout the country’s six regions.”
She also wants travel advisors to remind clients that Colombia is not a world away. “Colombia is closer than people think. You can fly from Miami to Cartagena in less than three hours or you can fly from D.C. to Bogota and it’s 3.5 or four hours.” There’s also air from Dallas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Atlanta, among others, connecting to cities throughout Colombia.
Having welcomed 1.2 million U.S. visitors in 2019, this year the country is expected to welcome 800,000 visitors from the U.S., with full recovery expected next year. Initially, the ProColombia team was eyeing 2024 to get back to pre-pandemic numbers, but they are very optimistic and now say 2023 will be the year when the destination gets back to “normal.”
And, she adds, today’s Colombia is not your grandfather’s Colombia. Safety is very important to us, she says, “so we work very closely with the U.S. government to push that message, and we want the destination to be a trustworthy destination. We don’t hide our history, but we are proud to say that we are becoming a different Colombia.
“Tourists are not aware that you have all this variety of experiences in Colombia that can be enjoyed year-round. In Colombia, within a relatively small territory—because we have great connectivity and it’s very easy to move from one place to another—you can find everything from beaches to eco-tourism. And you can travel to Colombia year-round as we don’t experience the different seasons. That’s something that in general tourists are not aware of,” says Santoro Trujillo.
In order to spread the message, ProColombia works closely with U.S.-based travel advisor consortia and tour operators, and the agency offers a specialist program that’s important, says Santoro Trujillo, because “the country is moving so fast it’s not easy keeping up with all the new tourism infrastructure.” The program includes rewards such as FAMs, because it’s the best way to recognize advisors’ contributions to selling Colombia and the first-hand experience advisors get out of these helps a lot.”
Jewels of Colombia
When it comes to where to send clients within Colombia, Santoro Trujillo rattles off everywhere from Cartagena to Medellin as well as the coffee area. It depends, she says, what your clients want to do, but she says emphatically, the country offers something for everyone.
For those clients who love nature and adventure, you can recommend trekking in the Sierra Nevada or humpback whale watching in El Choco as well as sailing and swimming with stingrays in San Andres.
When it comes to cultural experiences, Cartagena is filled to the brim with colonial architecture, and Barranquilla is known for its Carnival and in Bogota, you can find the Gold Museum.
For wellness-seekers, there are hot springs in Coconuco and for the sun and sand crowd, there are deserted beaches in Providence.
There’s also product for the LGBTQ+ community and your luxury clients, not to mention the all-important multigenerational crowd. And for those who want to get a taste of Colombia, cruise ships call in Cartagena and Santa Marta.
New River Cruise Product on the Magdalena
Set for a 2024 debut are AmaWaterways sailings on the Magdalena River, which Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways, says is absolutely lovely. “I’m always looking at all the rivers around the world and there are lots of rivers, but very few rivers where you have life, cities, culture and so on. The focus is on rivers where you find enough to do—culture, wildlife, the proper mix—and I think the Magdalena, with its World Heritage sites, has this mix. It’s a good mix and it’s a good time to start.”
The intimate 80-passenger AmaMagdalena will sail between Barranquilla and Cartagena, which, Schreiner says, “is one of the most beautiful cities in South America.”
For more information on Colombia, visit procolombia.co/en.