What is the potential behind ecotourism in Colombia?
JAVIER GÓMEZ Today, 25% of the 2.8 million foreign visitors come here to enjoy our natural wonders. In terms of national tourism and ecotourism, we can talk about 25% of 10 million people. However, this figure is constantly growing and Colombians are becoming increasingly aware of the beauty of our tourism and nature.
JUAN LEONARDO CORREA JARAMILLO I honestly believe that this is one of the segments that offers the greatest potential, because Colombia is very rich in terms of nature and natural resorts. However, we lack the expertise on how to exploit this potential. Colombia needs to step up its work in this particular segment, and closely work with local communities to make this product something more tangible and real for the future. In addition, we need to develop eco-friendly infrastructure to better attract visitors. Basically, we need to go from words to actions.
What challenges is Colombia facing to further develop the tourism industry?
JG I believe one of the main challenges is language. Colombia lacks the tradition of welcoming worldwide foreigners, and therefore there are very few people who fluently speak a second or even a third language. We must boost training opportunities at the language level. Also, we still need to change the stereotypes about Colombia at the global level, because we have come a long way but people still believe that we are a very insecure country. Finally, there are emerging destinations within Colombia, and we need to know how to capitalize on such potential to make it a reality. We have high hopes for the future and for the peace process, and we believe that it will contribute to promoting the image of Colombia, along with other initiatives such as nationwide tourism promotional campaigns and strategies.
JLCJ The greatest challenge ahead is the development of road infrastructure, because that would boost other economic sectors. I believe that the implementation of a public-private partnership (PPP) scheme for the development of infrastructure projects nationally would work. That is something the current government is highly aware of, and is already working toward. At the same time, the government is tackling past patterns and mistakes in terms of corruption and the breach of legal agreements. I am very optimistic for the future; however, we cannot rest on our laurels, as we have to keep pushing the above issues because they hold the key for the development of all economic sectors. In addition, we need to further work on international air connections with all our airports, because that would boost the arrival of larger numbers of tourists not only in Bogotá, but the entire country. Finally, I would like to stress the importance of keeping up with the security efforts that have contributed to change many old stereotypes about Colombia. We have many opportunities ahead, and we need to keep working in the same direction that the last two governments were heading.
What are the competitive advantages of Colombia as a tourism destination?
JG The country has a variety of traditions, cultures, natural spaces, ecosystems, and also people. Colombians are very friendly and welcoming, and that makes us stand out against competition. I truly believe that if Colombia hadn't been affected by social conflicts, we would be the leading tourism destination worldwide thanks to our natural richness and variety.
How has the number of tourists visiting Colombia evolved over the years?
JLCJ President Santos set up an ambitious goal for the country and the tourism industry to reach 4 million visitors per year, and the entire industry is very committed to it. I believe that we will close 2013 with around 3.2 million tourists. Such a figure is very positive; however, the growth of the hospitality sector is much higher, and if we want to make the new hotel infrastructure profitable, we will need to attract more than 4 million visitors per year.