Emerging Tourism in Colombia and the Business Opportunities That Follow
In the past, conflict in Colombia has generated a lot of bad press and discouraged travel to Colombia. All of that has changed and is continuing to change for the better. The introduction of the democratic security and defense policy by former president Alvaro Uribe Velez has proven invaluable in the renewed growth of Colombia’s tourism sector. In fact, international tourism arrivals have grown at an average annual rate of about 10% since 2002. The truth is that Colombia is home to many unique and exciting attractions, and features numerous cities worth visiting and investing in. Cartagena, Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla, all offer fantastic tourism experiences.
Colombia is home to no less than eight United Nations world heritage sites, including the entire resort city of Cartagena. Cartagena was founded in 1533 by the Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia and has a rich history, which is reflected in the culture, architecture, and tourist attractions. Nicknamed the ‘door of the Americas’, Cartagena is affordable, exciting and has some of the best coastlines in the world.
The capital city of Colombia, Bogotá, is the largest city in the country and one of the thirty largest cities in the world. With a population of about 7 million, Bogotá is often referred to as the Athens of South America. The region offers visitors everything they expect from a major city: a fantastic range of food options, access to amenities, plenty of shopping, and endless entertainment.
With its very rich and varied geography, which includes the Amazon and Andean regions, the llanos, both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and the deserts of La Guajira, Colombia has major potential for ecotourism. Colombia has coastline, mountainous areas, tropical jungles, waterfalls and volcanoes.
Colombia is experiencing an economic boom and is about to explode with opportunity. On May 1st, 2012 President Juan Manuel Santos announced that since 2010, Colombia has created over 1.5 million jobs and plans to continue the growth by adding another 1 million jobs before the end of his term. This would still leave Colombia with an unemployment rate of about 9-10%, but that means that affordable labor will continue to be an important economic factor in Colombia. The mixture of renewed confidence in public security, cheap labor, and an underdeveloped tourist industry is a recipe for extreme growth in tourism for the country.
A similar situation took place in Brazil during and after 2008, when the rest of the world was suffering an economic meltdown. Although Brazil is a much larger country in terms of size and population, the two countries share a similar history, geography, and economic environment. Brazil was quick to renew focus on security, attract foreigners, and encourage external investment. While Colombia had to deal with more extreme safety threats, most would agree that the worst of it is over and there has been steady improvement over the last 5 years.
One example of recent success is the Hacienda Napoles theme park, built by the Colombian state on a former ranch seized from the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Today the resort offers 5 star accommodations at the hotel Casablanca, a wide range of eco-tourist activities, and has generated hundreds of jobs in the region.
In March 2011 Standard and Poor’s raised Colombia’s credit rating to investment grade. While it would be prudent to take steps to ensure your legal and financial security by hiring an attorney familiar with Colombian investments, the early bird will get the worm! If you don’t know where to start, here are two top places worth checking out:
A city perched on a beautiful Caribbean bay; Santa Marta is an important cultural and historical tourist destination. Proximity to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park make the city a nature tourism destination without equal. Santa Marta has a population of approximately 450,000. Featuring a booming tourism industry, great beaches, and perfect opportunities for adventure, Santa Marta has a couple of exciting attributes that would make any savvy investor’s mouth water. Santa Marta is highly under-developed relative to similar regions in Columbia. There are numerous proof-of-concepts just waiting to be applied in the ecotourism, hotel, and resort industries. The most interesting part about investing in Santa Marta is the complete lack of international brand presence. Simply offering familiar products to international tourists would be a license to print money in Santa Marta.
Also completely devoid of international brand presence, the Coffee Triangle is a central region consisting of the departments of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda, and is known for producing the best coffee in the world. Approximately 1.1 million people live in the Coffee Triangle. This could be the ideal place to invest for someone looking to open a small resort, bed and breakfast, or coffee shop. Because of the coffee trade and size of the commercial sector, there are many opportunities that appeal to business travelers.
To summarize, the emerging markets of Latin America have been one of the most exciting investment areas since the new millennium, with new funds and new ways to invest popping up all the time. There is no doubt that huge gains await investors that can find the right emerging market investment at the right time. As an active investor, taking advantage of Colombia’s tourist sector can be promising. Tourism in Colombia is still very much in its infancy, and now is one of the best times to get in on the opportunities that await investors for tourism.
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