Ok, so Colombia might not have gone on to the semifinals at the World Cup in Brazil (although Colombians must still be celebrating following yesterday’s Brazil massacre), but this country is winning big in tourism.
This new darling of Latin American tourism offers up, as its new tourism slogan, “Colombia is Magical Realism,” implies, experiences that are unique to Colombia such as the Cocuy National Park in Boyaca that’s ideal for hiking and rock climbing; the Coffee Cultural Landscape, where tourists can tour coffee plantations and immerse themselves in the country’s coffee culture; the Amazon, where visitors can fly between gigantic trees as they hang from a jumping rope; and Las Islas of San Andres and Providencia, where one can enjoy a culinary feast…and these are just a few of the country’s myriad offerings.
Recommend recently published the Colombia Travel Guide, and editor-in-chief, Paloma Villaverde de Rico, recently sat down with Luis German Restrepo, executive director, USA, Proexport Colombia, and Andrea Lopez, marketing & communications director, North America and the Caribbean, Proexport Colombia, the tourism, trade, and investment wing of Colombia’s government, to find out more about the country’s new tourism slogan and new developments throughout the country.
Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): What’s going on in Colombia that travel agents should know about?
Luis German Restrepo (LGR): Very exciting things. We’ve grown dramatically in the last few years. We have flights from several U.S. cities—direct connections. We’ve had a huge investment in the past five years in the hotel industry. We are currently building about 7,000 new rooms….
Andrea Lopez (AL): From 2001 to 2011, we opened around 15,000 rooms; then, from 2011 to 2016, we are expecting to open another 7,000 rooms.
PVR: Do you think that the U.S. perception of Colombia has changed?
LGR: Dramatically. We went from the stories in the 80s and the early-90s to what Colombia is today. We are now the third largest economy in the region. Our campaign, too, has changed: We started with “Colombia, The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay,” which is straight forward—this is what we have, this is our reality and this is our perception. So what we have now in our campaign is “magical realism.”
AL: It is a campaign that aims to show unique experiences in Colombia. We discovered that tourists in the beginning were apprehensive to travel to Colombia because of the risk, so that initial campaign was just attacking that part of the mindset. In this second campaign, we realized that people are not afraid to travel to Colombia anymore and since they are looking for a destination they haven’t visited in the past, it’s unique for them. One of the special things that Colombia has is that we have different products. If you go to the Caribbean, you have the beach and the sun, but if you go to Cartagena, you have history. If you go to Bogota, you have the cosmopolitan city, and then if you go to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta or maybe the coffee triangle, you will find nature experiences. So the good thing is the diversity of Colombia and through this campaign we get to promote the different products.
LGR: We have a very unique product to offer. Not only the very historical city of Cartagena, which is very unique, but the Coffee Region, where you can go and stay at a hacienda, wake up in the morning, go pick up the coffee, do the whole coffee process and enjoy a cup of coffee that you yourself have created and the best part is you can do this year-round. All of these little things come together to create a unique experience and that is what we are trying to show with the “magical realism” campaign.
PVR: If I’m a first-timer to Colombia, if I have a week to explore, what shouldn’t I miss?
LGR: Again, the different products. There’s the historical city of Cartagena. There’s San Andres and Providencia, which are these islands in the middle of the Caribbean. You can go to the coffee region. Or, for example, Cali, which has a salsa championship every other day; the people there love to dance. There’s also Bogota, it has the Gold Museum and the Salt Cathedral. Each one of the regions has different unique experiences. If you have a week, with our air connectivity you can fly from one city to another very easily.
AL: There are flights every hour. You can go from the north part of Colombia to the south in 40 minutes, so it’s not a long trip. You can go to Cartagena in the morning and stay there for a day, and then fly to another city, so that part is an asset for us.
LGR: Or driving. If you like to drive, you can go from Cartagena to Bogota, which is almost at 10,000 ft.—going to those mountains is incredible. It’s a different view; it’s a different scene.
PVR: Do you recommend travelers drive?
LGR: I do, because it’s a unique experience. The scenery is spectacular. It’s a long drive, though, because you have to go from sea level to the mountains.
PVR: Are you targeting a specific type of traveler?
LGR: Depending on the product. We see Cartagena for someone who wants to study the history, the conquistadors. The Coffee Region is for someone who wants to do nature. Bogota is probably more trendy, so it’s for someone who wants to go out. Medellin has another unique product as they have the flower industry. So depending on the region, there is a product for different visitors.
For more information on Colombia, check out Recommend’s June issue. For specific information on Bogota, read the Bogota, Colombia feature in the August 2013 issue.