BOUND FOR GREENER SKIES

Colombia 2018 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jean-Claude Bessudo, President of Aviatur, on boosting online commerce, how to face changes in the corporate ecosystem, and finding a legislative equilibrium.

Jean-Claude Bessudo
BIOGRAPHY
Joining Aviatur’s travel and tourism agency in 1967, Jean-Claude Bessudo has been president since 1970. He is also president of the board of directors of Asociación Colombiana de Agencias de Viajes y Turismo ANATO, chairman of the board of directors of the French Colombian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and vice president of the global International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA). He lectures frequently in the country’s biggest universities on senior management, service quality, professional ethics, and tourism. Author of the book, Strategic Improvisation, he was elected as Best Manager of Colombia in 2007 according to the Portafolio financial newspaper. The French Government has decorated him with the National Order of Merit and the Légion d’Honneur.

What were the main highlights and challenges of 2017 for Aviatur?

2017 was great for Aviatur: we made progress on our automation development and were extremely successful with our commerce. We have experienced impressive growth, the fastest in Latin America, and progressed with the hotel we are building on the Colombian coast, which is expected to be ready before the end of 1Q2018. The peace process has increased inbound tourism traffic to Colombia. Though it is always a challenge to adapt to the changing conditions in Colombia: exchange rate fluctuations, presidential elections, and the World Cup that traditionally paralyzes the country.

You predicted a 500% increase in the number of tourists in the next 10 years. What is your strategy to keep up with this massive increase?

The number of business tourists is falling, which may be due to the general reduction in Colombia's economic activity. However, there is an increase in the number of those coming here to discover the country, and it is these people we are interested in. Our inbound tourists department has a great deal of work. In terms of our strategy to cope with the increase, we will do what we have done for the last 50 years.

How does Aviatur plan to compete with new international players in the market that have set up operations in Colombia?

We typically do not worry about what other players are doing, and try to compete through our reliability and by striving for perfection in the service we deliver. We are present in 38 cities across Colombia. We are reliable due to our local knowledge and presence. We are fast at making decisions and adapting as a company, and we know the country well. A company is only as bad as the worst of its employees, and we focus on having the best staff. Competition from abroad is just part of working in a global market. The rise of corporate travel began 20 years ago in 1997-1998, but now we face a change in the corporate ecosystem with the newly available communication and statistical tools.

How important is the corporate travel side of Aviatur's business compared to individual travellers?

Outbound travel makes up 95% of our business and incoming 5%. Of this, 70-75% of our outbound business is corporate travel.

What is your growth forecast for 1H2018?

In 1Q2018, activity in our offices has been up 30% on the same period in 2017. We do not have an annual target; we never do predictions in Colombia. At the group level, Aviatur's YoY growth is 56%. There is no particular strategy to achieve these results other than trying to do our best, be efficient, and have the lowest cost possible.

Is Colombia on a path to becoming a world-class tourist destination?

It is. The peace process has had a significant impact on the image of the country. Colombia has 1 million sqkm without infrastructure, so there is a great deal to do. Green or ecotourism is the future for us because Colombia's biodiversity is the country's specialty.

What sector is most in need of FDI in Colombia?

Industry, though Colombia's tax levels are competitive at about 75%. One of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez's main programs was mining, but local communities blocked it because of their concerns about the environmental impact. However, mining can be carried out responsibly. If mining and petroleum are problematic, then perhaps industry would be the best sector to attract large production companies to Colombia.

What legislative change would you like to see in the tourism sector?

The problem is we have too many laws; there are so many layers that no one knows what to do or how to apply the requirements. Our legislative branch of government is working too hard while our judicial branch is not working at all; there are too many laws and no justice.