SPRING ETERNAL

Colombia 2013 | TOURISM | FOCUS: MEDELLÍN

Medellín's appeal as a business and leisure destination has inspired the local government to take the most innovative city in the world to the next level.

As Colombia's second most important city, Medellín has undergone an exceptional transformation over the past 20 years. With newly built public libraries, parks, schools in hillside neighborhoods, and a series of transportation links to its commercial and industrial centers, Medellín is positioning itself as Colombia's premier tourism destination.

Demonstrating the positive effects of Medellín's evolution, hotel occupancy grew 3.6% to 54% overall in 2012. The nearby airport saw over 2 million arrivals in the same year, with almost 10% of them, or 160,000 people, traveling to Medellín for the purpose of tourism. However, hopes are high to boost the number of visitors to 400,000 by 2016, as well as increase tourism's contribution to GDP by 20% over the same period. In total, 25% of the city's guests were tourists in 2012, marking a 9% increase in foreign visitors year-on-year.

Capturing media attention, Medellín was awarded the “City of the Year" prize by Citigroup and the Wall Street Journal in March 2013. Approximately 1 million voters threw their support behind the city, beating competitors New York City and Tel Aviv. The most important criterion for winning the award is innovation. According to the city's leadership, Medellín was chosen for its modern transit system, environmental policies, and network of museums, schools, and cultural centers, designed to enrich the community, create jobs, and attract visitors. “Innovation sets the pace, and we foresee Medellín becoming the Latin American IT, technology, and innovation capital," Aníbal Gaviria Correa, Mayor of Medellín, explained to TBY.

As part of ongoing projects to redesign the city as an environmentally friendly and attractive destination, the administration has set plans to construct Medellín River Park, a 23-kilometer-project that restores the city's river space and calls attention to its importance. The budget for the park is $1 billion, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) will be a key part of its development. When complete, the project will complement the numerous parks located in Medellín—one of which is the famed Barefoot Park, where visitors can enjoy the relaxing sensation of natural textures. Through such attractions, local residents and visitors alike are encouraged to enjoy Medellín in a variety of unique ways.

In addition to visiting Medellín's cultural gems, a wide variety of business tourists see Medellín as the ideal city for corporate events, conferences, and meetings. These MICE tourists are often headed to Plaza Mayor, the main exposition center in the city and the site of two of the most important events in Latin America for the fashion world: Colombiatex and Colombiamoda. Over 25 malls located around the city cater to fashion-oriented MICE tourists seeking to do a bit of shopping on the side.

However, the largest event the center organizes every year is Expocamacol, an important construction fair in Colombia. Expocamacol has gained popularity at an international level thanks to fast-paced developments and large investments in the local construction sector. In 2012, some 1.2 million people visited Plaza Mayor, and around 35,000-40,000 visitors were engaged in MICE-related activities. The center has 40 events planned for 2013.

To accommodate the growing number of residents and tourists, creative infrastructure such as urban escalators, cable car lines, and an aboveground metro have been established in recent years. Stretching for 5 kilometers and across two lines, the cable car network in Medellín is fully integrated with the affordable public transportation system. With metro usage increasing 11% and adding 1.6 million passengers from 2011 to 2012, public transit in the city is designed to handle an increased number of users. Many of the city's travelers also arrived through Medellín's international air transpiration hub, José María Córdova International Airport, which has direct flights to and from Miami, Madrid, New York, Panama, Lima, Quito, Caracas, and Fort Lauderdale.

Known for experiencing year-round weather that feels neither like summer nor winter, Medellín has been fondly dubbed “the city of everlasting spring." With an endless supply of innovation and a pervading sense of happiness in the city, the title appears to be a good fit. “Colombia is among the happiest countries in the world," Gabriel Jaime Rico Betancur, General Manager of Plaza Mayor, told TBY.