Tourism in Colombia today is a different industry than it was in the past. What has been the role of Aviatur in this?
We have never stopped promoting Colombia as a tourism destination, even during times when we knew it was a utopian effort. During the period of civil unrest and Pablo Escobar, we still participated in international trade shows, fairs, and exhibitions. In 1967, we opened offices in Paris, Miami, and Caracas to promote tourism. We were highly successful until the Palacio de Justicia event in 1985, but nonetheless, we continued to promote Colombia. At present, we are highly active in the online business, which accounts for 30% of our activity on average. We have 55 bungalows in Las Islas, and on any day around 20% of visitors arrive through Leading Hotels of the World, 17% through travel agencies, 15% directly through the hotel, 10% through our offices, and 20% from online booking. On a daily basis, we have around a 60% capacity rate, with an average of 29 rooms booked.
How is Aviatur working toward promoting sustainable tourism?
We provide any type of tourism on request as well as tailor-made plans for any special interest. This is bringing a new type of tourist to Colombia. We are receiving an increasing number of requests for specialized tourism, such as those to discover archeology, flora, and fauna; Colombia is an ideal destination for ecotourism because a good percentage of its territory is untouched. Meanwhile, the mechanisms of “consulta previa," or popular consultation, established by the 1991 constitution require the government to ask the local communities if they want tourism, and if so, what type and in what capacity. After discussion with the indigenous communities, the government communicates the information to prospective investors.
Your new hotel in Baru is a pioneering high-end, luxury establishment. How can the Colombian coast take advantage of high-end luxury tourism?
Every country has to decide on what type of tourism it wants to develop. The important matter to consider is not the number of people coming, but the revenue they generate for the country. The number of international tourists may be small, but the majority of them are high-income individuals. This is a policy that the Maldives, Botswana, Uganda, and Bhutan, among other countries, have adopted. It will prevent problems that cities such as Venice face, where there is a movement to oppose tourism. We are beginning to face this problem with cruises in Cartagena, for example, which flood the city to the annoyance of locals.
Do these new types of tourism present an opportunity to regions other than Cartagena?
Recently, a number of major players from different cities posed this question to me. We have to know where the tourist sites are and what they represent, for example, in terms of speleology, transparent rivers for kayaking, fauna, and flora, and so on, in order to engage in effective promotional activities. We have a company called Aviaexport, which was instructed to appraise our entire offerings, and only then present the opportunities in each region to the specialized travel community. Simultaneously, we have to prepare guides to check circuits and try to use the existing infrastructure as much as possible, before seeking additional facilities.
Can you tell us about Avialegal?
Ours is a country of lawyers, with one out of two professionals being one, and also a country with too many laws despite a slow legal system, in my view. In the tourism field that we specialize in, we know which errors to avoid. We are the only travel agency in the world that besides having external consultants, employs nine full-time lawyers. Therefore, we have decided to outsource these services to the Colombian tourism industry. When a group of our employees propose a partnership with us to provide a service we do not yet provide, we pursue the opportunity.