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Air Service One talks with, Gilberto Salcedo, Tourism Vice President at ProColombia

ProColombia

As the 154th IATA Slot Conference touches down in Bogotá Colombia this June, Air Service One was honoured to find out what has made this destination such a focus for the worlds airlines. We wanted to find out more about one of the most famous countries in the world from ProColombia’s Tourism Vice President, Gilberto Sacedo.

How is Colombia’s tourism industry rebounding following the pandemic?

Colombia is currently witnessing a historic moment in its tourism industry, exemplified by a remarkable resurgence post-pandemic. Living up to our new country brand slogan, “Colombia: The Country of Beauty,” we reached an unprecedented milestone in 2023, welcoming more than 5.8 million international visitors, marking a historic high and surpassing previous records by 24%.

These good times keep rolling into 2024. We’re seeing a solid 7.6% jump in tourists from overseas in the first quarter alone compared to the same time last year. That’s right, 1.6 million visitors from all over the globe are flocking into soak up Colombia’s beauty.

Plus, it is worth mentioning this is not just about leisure. Our tourism boom is making serious profits. Third-quarter numbers for 2023 hit a staggering US$ 6.572 billion in tourism revenue, a massive 24.1% leap from 2022. Plus, in 2023, according to the Central Bank of Colombia, we earned over US$ 9 billion in passenger and travel revenue, marking a 22.4% increase from the previous year.

We can proudly say: we’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking the walk. Colombia’s showing up strong among the top 20 countries making a great comeback post-pandemic. We’ve quickly gotten our flights back on track and are welcoming visitors with open arms. This is proof that Colombia’s allure shines through, making us a top pick for travelers worldwide.

What are the main international markets in terms of arrivals into Colombia?

The primary international markets driving arrivals into Colombia are the United States, Mexico, and Ecuador. If we talk specifically about the United States, the strategic advantage lies in the accessibility and proximity of multiple cities across the US to various cities in Colombia, with travel times ranging from three to five hours, facilitated by a robust air connectivity.

If we talk globally, it is worth noting that Colombia hosts 29 international airlines linking 11 cities with 27 countries and 50 international destinations. This extensive network has prompted the inauguration of 21 new international routes for 2023 and 14 for the current year.

As of April 2024, the country benefits from over 1,330 weekly flight frequencies and more than 247,000 available seats. Noteworthy developments include the launch of new international routes: Montreal to Bogotá by Avianca, Sao Paulo to Bogotá by GOL, and Buenos Aires to Bogotá by GOL amongst others. Furthermore, Emirates is scheduled to commence operations in Bogota on June 3rd, offering a route to Dubai with a stopover in Miami.

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Are there any particular markets you are targeting in the upcoming period?

We could say that one of our primary focuses for the upcoming period is on North America, particularly the United States. In 2023, the United States emerged as the leading source of international travelers to Colombia, constituting over 25% of total arrivals, with more than 1.5 million visitors. In addition to this, arrivals from the United States during January-February 2024 have seen a positive variation of 22.4% compared to the same period in 2023. Key destinations such as Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla attract significant numbers of American visitors, primarily for leisure purposes.

This trend is supported by extensive air connectivity. Currently, there are 360 frequencies and over 62,000 seats available per week between our two countries. Plus 10 cities in the U.S are connected with 7 cities in Colombia, with prominent routes including Bogotá-Miami, Bogotá-New York, and Medellín-Miami. With 7 airlines operating between the United States and Colombia, including Avianca, American Airlines, Delta, United, JetBlue, Spirit, and Latam, we are strategically positioned to further cultivate and capitalize on this vital market segment.

 How does Colombia differentiate itself from other destinations in the region to attract tourists?

Colombia stands out as a premier tourist destination due to its extraordinary biodiversity, sustainable tourism practices, and captivating beauty. Spanning 1.1 million square kilometers, Colombia is home to 10% of the world’s biodiversity, with diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife. Our commitment to environmental conservation and social inclusion is evident through our sustainable tourism policy, making us one of only 12 countries globally with such an initiative. This underscores our determination to preserve Colombia’s status as a global biodiversity leader while fostering a culture of peace and inclusivity.

Recently, we launched a new country brand narrative, “Colombia: The Country of Beauty,” highlighting our natural landscapes, our six tourist regions that differentiates us from the rest of South America, and our cultural diversity. This unified message invites traveler’s to explore Colombia’s hidden treasures while celebrating the vastness of its territories. Our strategic focus on showcasing Colombia’s beauty in all its dimensions ensures an unforgettable experience for visitors while safeguarding our natural and local communities’ heritage for future generations.

The country has received several recognitions such as: the best gastronomical destination in the world (National Geographic, 2024), and best afro destination (WTM LATAM, 2024). In terms of cities, the island of San Andres was awarded the best beach destination in South America by the World Travel Awards (2024) and Trip Advisor (2024) and Bogota, the capital, was recognized as top destination in South America (Trip advisor, 2024). The Magdalena River was also acknowledged as the best places to visit in 2024 (Conde Nast Traveller, 2023) where the first river cruise will be taking place in the country in 2025.

Are there any joint projects between the Colombian tourism sector and airlines to increase connectivity and promote tourism growth in the country?

In Colombia, there are joint projects between the tourism sector and airlines to increase connectivity and foster tourism growth in the country. ProColombia actively collaborates with airports and key partners, such as destination entities, to seek new opportunities for air routes that boost current capacity. This involves attracting new routes and increasing the number of seats and frequencies on existing ones.

In recent years, the focus has been on decentralizing air operations, increasing international seat capacity to destinations like Cartagena and Medellín. This leverages the country’s diverse regions and multiple points of entry.

IATA Colombia
Cartagena, Greater  Colombian Caribbean, one of Colombia’s most popular cities.                                                                                            Photo credit:ProColombia

Furthermore, joint promotion with actors in the aviation industry is crucial. This collaboration occurs at the final stage of the conversion funnel, where the destination is promoted alongside airlines to achieve the expected transactional outcomes and increase travel bookings to Colombia. This integrated strategy between tourism and airlines helps strengthen connectivity and position Colombia as an attractive and accessible tourist destination.

What efforts are being made to ensure sustainable tourism practices and minimise the environmental impact of tourism in Colombia?

As I mentioned before, efforts to ensure sustainable tourism practices in Colombia are paramount, underscored by our status among 12 countries with a dedicated sustainable tourism policy.

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Leveraging opportunities arising from the peace agreement, tourism serves as a transformative force, reframing history and fostering reconciliation. Despite being a relatively new industry, Colombian tourism prioritizes environmental conservation and social inclusion, ensuring local communities benefit economically. Led by ProColombia, our collaborative approach involves stakeholders to uphold standards that preserve biodiversity and cultural heritage; we have tour operators and hotels that are B corp certified, for example, like Awake Travel or Blue Apple Beach Hotel.

We also work closely with the Investment Vice-presidency to identify possible investment opportunities in sustainable tourism. For example, in 2023 the Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism of Colombia and USAID are working on a memorandum of understanding to strengthen the development of regenerative tourism in Colombia where the key priority is to support the implementation of public policies that reinforce sustainability and competitiveness of the tourism industry.

 Sustainable tourism isn’t just a goal; it’s integral to Colombia’s vision of balanced development, harmonizing economic prosperity with environmental stewardship and our territories’ evolution and well-being.

How does Colombia plan to address any challenges or concerns related to safety and security for tourists?

Colombia is actively addressing safety and security concerns for tourists through its new Security, Defense, and Citizen Coexistence Policy. This comprehensive strategy, presented by the National Government, aims to protect life, contain deforestation, safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty, and strengthen security forces. The National Police are focused on generating secure conditions in both urban and rural areas, aiming to eliminate violence and regain control of the territory. Also, the destinations and their regional competent authorities are working tirelessly to ensure that travelers’ experience is always safe.

Moreover, Colombia is committed to promoting itself internationally as a safe and attractive destination for tourism, foreign direct investment, and non-mining energy exports. ProColombia, the promotion agency of the country, is actively marketing Colombia as an ideal tourist destination under the Country Brand. This commitment to security and promotion of tourism is not only a national priority but also providing positive results, making tourism a significant industry for the country’s development.

How does Colombia envision the future of tourism in the country, and what are the key priorities moving forward?

Colombia envisions a future of vibrant and sustainable tourism to preserve the beauty and rich cultural heritage of our six regions. As we look ahead, our key priority is to promote Colombia as the country of beauty, the new country slogan.

On the other hand, with initiatives focused on conserving biodiversity, fostering economic development, and promoting responsible travel practices, Colombia is committed to ensuring that tourism benefits both our communities and our environment. At ProColombia, we are committed to building a sustainable business network in all communities, empowering each of our destinations through their unique strengths, which include training, product development, and international visibility.

Additionally, our strategic focus includes enhancing air connectivity and expanding tourism infrastructure. By prioritizing sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation, Colombia aims to emerge with travelers and even businesspeople as a trendy and ideal destination for both business and leisure.

 

Air Service Fun:

Best city to visit in Colombia?

First-time visitors are in for a treat as there is so much to discover in this country that people must come back time and time again! Depending on what each visitor is looking for, Colombia offers adventure, nature, wildlife, gastronomy, music, history, and cityscape travel highlights all in one. Currently, some of the most visited cities by Americans are Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and Cali.

If you could only recommend one hidden gem destination in Colombia that tourists often overlook, what would it be and why?

In terms of suggestions, it’s very hard to pick just a few because there is so much to see! One often overlooked hidden gem in Colombia is the Colombian Pacific region. Bahia Solano, nestled in the jungle and coral reefs, offers immense wildlife, including migratory bird species and humpback whales between July and October. Nuqui is another gem in the Pacific Coast known for ecotourism and water sports. For adventurers, the ‘Lost City’ in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, in the Greater Colombian Caribbean, offers an epic archaeological trek. These destinations are just an example of hidden, unforgettable, and meaningful experiences that visitors can find in Colombia.

Could you share an unusual or lesser-known fact about Colombia?

Colombia has various lesser-known facts that underscore its diverse and progressive nature. For example: our country ranks as the 5th largest African diaspora globally and is the 4th most connected country with the USA. The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta is recognized as the planet’s most irreplaceable ecosystem by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Moreover, Colombia leads the hemisphere with its progressive LGBTQ+ legislation. These are some facts that highlight Colombia’s rich cultural heritage, strong international ties, environmental leadership, and commitment to inclusivity.

Favourite local delicacy?

Hormigas culonas, in English the translation would be something like “big-bottomed ants”. These are a type of large leaf-cutter ant, always female, a delicacy in Santander, Colombia, the place where I was born.

What’s the most memorable travel experience you’ve had personally?

One of my most cherished travel experiences was visiting Chingaza National Natural Park with my children. Located just an hour away from Bogotá, nestled in the Eastern Andes, this place offers a mesmerizing landscape of paramo and Andean jungle. As we explored the park, we were captivated by its diverse flora and fauna, including rare spectacled bears. Visitors can also often find deer, Andean condors and other rare species of birds.

In your opinion, what makes Colombian coffee the best in the world?

Colombian coffee holds a distinguished reputation as the world’s finest due to several factors. Firstly, Colombia’s position as the leading producer of mild and specialty coffees underscores its commitment to quality and excellence. The predominant Arabica variety, cultivated in regions with diverse climatic and geographical conditions, gives unique attributes to Colombian coffee, elevating its flavour profile and aroma. Moreover, Colombian coffee production and export plays an important role in supporting local communities, generating approximately 540,000 direct jobs for families across the country.

For coffee enthusiasts seeking an immersive experience, exploring Colombia’s Coffee Cultural Landscape is highly recommended. Comprising four departments -Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca- this region offers travelers the opportunity to immerse themselves in breathtaking landscapes, colonial architecture, and the rich cultural heritage of coffee growers.

The recognition of Colombia’s Coffee Landscape as a UNESCO World Heritage Site further underscores the quality and significance of Colombian coffee. Since its inclusion on the World Heritage List in 2011, this distinction has brought immense pride to the communities of coffee growers and reaffirmed Colombia’s position as a global leader in coffee production.

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