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Colombia 2016 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sandra Howard Taylor, Vice Minister of Tourism, on key areas for promoting local tourism, the changing perceptions of Colombia, and strategies for increasing tourist arrivals from abroad.

Sandra Howard Taylor
BIOGRAPHY
Sandra Howard Taylor began her career in public administration as Manager for seven years of the Fund for Promotion of The State of San Andres and Providence. She later became Secretary of Education and Culture of the same state and acting Governor on several occasions. In October 2013 she was appointed as Colombia’s Vice Minister of Tourism, where the development of sustainable tourism has been one of her main objectives. Representing Colombia, she presided over the Americas Commission of UNWTO in 2014 and 2015 and currently leads the Sustainable Development Committee of the UNWTO. She has also spoken at many international forums, including the Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau.

How has the tourism sector evolved, and which areas are you promoting to bolster tourism in the country?

Colombia's tourism sector has evolved and developed greatly over the last few years, and this is down to two major factors. First, Colombia is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world and, second, it has an extraordinary cultural heritage that is as diverse as it is rich. So Colombia really stands out from other in Latin American nations and indeed the world. Colombia has something to visit every season, 365 days a year, with jungles, mountains, beaches, desert, tundra, savanna, coastlines on two oceans and the Caribbean, and a blend of African, European, American, and other cultures and civilizations. We also have some of the richest variety of flora and fauna of any country in the world. We really are blessed with an incredible country, and that makes our job really easy.

How has the perception of Colombia changed and evolved globally, and how has this reflected on the tourism industry?

The tourism sector has been perhaps the most positively affected sector of the whole economy by the ongoing search to create a lasting peace in Colombia, which we are getting nearer and nearer to achieving. Our government and president have been doing everything in their power to try and find a lasting solution between the two sides, and once that is done, the tourism sector, and Colombia as a whole, will boom. We are closer to a lasting peace than ever before, and this will really spur the small and medium businesses and operators in the tourism sector, expanding and filling capacity, making new investments, and building up international networks and connections to bring more tourists and visitors into the country. But most importantly, beyond just the tourism sector, a lasting peace will transform our society, our economy, our politics, and the country as a whole. Many of the most beautiful, fertile, and productive regions of Colombia have been unable to reach their potential because of decades of conflict. We have developed a plan whereby we think tourism can help foster and protect lasting peace and help develop these areas that have been ravaged by war. We want tourism to develop in a sustainable way, in a way that complements the conservation of fragile habitats and ecosystems, while also being able to make all the treasures that we have to offer accessible to Colombians and the outside world. In that sense ecotourism is a key part of our strategy.

What are you doing to attract more tourists to Colombia, and from where do most of the international tourists originate?

The US continues to be the number one source of tourists for Colombia. But we also get many visitors from Europe, mainly Spain, and also tourists from other Latin American countries. Tourism is growing in all areas, be it ecotourism, beach and hotel tourism, cultural tourism, or business tourism. We are also looking to attract visitors from new markets and also open new tourism sectors and sites, while developing new products and packages to attract more people to the country. We want to focus on developing Colombian tourism to international standards, with the right certifications, licenses, permits, training, and educational activities that would help us achieve our goals so that Colombia occupies the place it deserves in the global tourism market.