HIDDEN GEM

Colombia 2017 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Zully Salazar Fuentes, President of The Cartagena Tourism Corporation (Corpoturismo), on the successes of the past year, becoming a model for other regions, and focusing on sustainability.

Zully Salazar Fuentes
BIOGRAPHY
Before joining Corpoturismo in 2012, Zully Salazar Fuentes was Vice-President of tourism for Proexport. Born in Corozal, Sucre, she graduated from Colegio Mayor de Bolivar, Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, and Fundacion Universitaria Colombo Internacional, where she studied tourism and management; also, she graduated high management and strategic leadership from Los Andes University. In the private sector, she has held executive positions at Aviatur and Contactos L’Alianxa.

How has Cartagena's tourism sector performed thus far in 2017?

So far, 2017 has been an especially good year. We have seen a 13% increase in Colombian tourists, a 17% increase in foreign travelers, and 15% more from cruises. If you compare Cartagena to the entire country, its tourism sector has grown by 22% while the rest of the country it has been around 13-14%. Of course, these indicators are quite high and we see that for the next couple of months this growth rate will slow down a bit based on economic slowdown. This year, we project 2.7 million visitors for the entire country.

How can other municipalities and cities along the Caribbean coast use Cartagena's tourism development as a model to benefit the entire region?

We are a model and leader of the Caribbean region in tourism because of our strong team that is based on collaboration between the public and private sectors. The national and local government invests in Cartagena, and we have a strong objective. We want to facilitate not only the growth of Cartagena but create connectivity between us and the rest of the world, creating more jobs and formality in the region overall.

How can Cartagena address the issue of informality in the tourism sector?

Cartagena has a high level of poverty, which leads to informality. On a small scale, if you are unemployed, you may think about buying a bottle of water at the store to later sell it at the beach for a bit more. On a larger scale, informality also includes entrepreneurs that do not pay taxes and are not officially registered as a business or company. Tourism in this line wants to improve life quality for everyone so we are working closely with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in order to fight informality and have a better business climate.

How do you balance Cartagena's growth in tourism with sustainability?

Let's compare Cartagena on a global scale to Barcelona. Tourists have replaced locals within the city, which is exactly what we do not want to happen. The bad image that Colombia had in general for several years because of the outside conflict kept Cartagena as a hidden gem, but, of course, we now want to develop the city. Not only is Cartagena a destination; it is an experience. We want tourists not to merely come here, but to really experience the city, its culture, and the people. We want the kind of tourism that stresses quality over quantity. We want tourists to come here that are committed to the people and the development of the city and society of Cartagena. We have restaurants and entertainment and want tourists to come and leave a good trace in Cartagena and bring it back to their country.

What is your long-term vision for Cartagena?

I see Cartagena becoming the biggest and most beautiful sustainable destination in the Caribbean. To do so, we need to change the mentality. Tourism has to elevate the quality of life, not only for certain people, but also for everyone in society. There is still a lot of work to be done in that area, but we are headed in the right path. For example, if you purchase something in Cartagena we want it to benefit the people of the city, not a manufacturer in a foreign country. Our goal is to create a new type of tourism in Cartagena that considers all these aspects.