The travel landscape is ever changing right now.
We caught up with Gilberto Salcedo, Tourism VP of ProColombia to get the latest intel on all things Colombia travel these days.
TravelPulse: How was Colombia tourism impacted by the pandemic and how is it recovering now?
Gilberto Salcedo: Aware of the immense potential of the country, each of its unique destinations, and the effect of the pandemic, at ProColombia we designed a recovery plan focusing our efforts on adapting to change in an innovative way, facilitating air travel connectivity and strengthening the confidence of international travelers in their ability to visit our destinations safely.
With this plan in mind, we were able to reduce the VAT on air tickets from 19% to 5%. This point was stipulated in the General Tourism Law approved in the Congress of the Republic in December 2020.
These efforts have been paying off in 2021 and the country has been taking the lead in terms of air connectivity. International organizations as relevant as OAG, a global leader in information and data on aviation, place Colombia in the 18th position in the world with the highest capacity of seats for the first week of December 2021, in a ranking that is led by the United States and China. In turn, within the Latin American markets, our country’s air capacity is in third place, only surpassed by Mexico and Brazil.
During 2021, Colombia reports 35 new air routes to Canada, the United States, México, Perú, Dominican Republic, Chile, Panamá and Curacao. Today we can say that Colombia has recovered 92.3% of the places and 88.4% of the frequencies it had in February 2020, before the pandemic. Today, 26 airlines link Colombia with 25 countries, with over 1.000 weekly international frequencies. Currently, the country is directly linked to various American cities such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington. That means over 64,000 seats are available per week, bringing Americans and Colombians together.
Colombia was also very quick to adapt itself to the changes the pandemic brought to the tourism industry, and we were the first country in Latin America to create a Biosafety certification for tourism businesses, called Check-In Certificado, which has been endorsed both by the World Tourism Organization as well as the World Tourism Council. To date, more than 962 companies and tourist service providers have been certified including the airports of Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta; the airlines VivaAir, Latam, Avianca, Wingo, Satena and Easyfly; and hotels such as Movich, Decameron, Selina, Estelar and GHL, among others.
TP: What are the current entry requirements and COVID-19 protocols travelers should know about?
GS: Since December 14, all international travelers over 18 years old entering Colombia must be fully vaccinated and show their COVID-19 vaccination card. Travelers with an incomplete scheme or who’ve just had their second dose in less than 14 days prior to the arrival to the country, must also show a negative PCR Test. All travelers must fill the CHECK-IN MIG form at least 24 hours before the flight.
TP: Safety is top concern for all travelers these days, so what would you say to someone who is wondering how safe it is to visit Colombia?
GS: Colombia has undergone a positive transformation in recent years, and we have earned recognition as a must visit destination and key commercial ally, for markets such as Canada and the US. As you say, people that have visited Colombia will know that Colombians are extremely friendly, welcoming and warm!
In terms of tourism, there is no doubt that nowadays, Colombia is one of the trendiest destinations. We are proud to have recently won nine recognitions at the 2021 World Travel Awards, which are known to be “the Oscars of Tourism”. We have also been considered as a successful example of innovation and social transformation and, as we continue to welcome visitors and show them that Colombia is a modern and evolving country, we believe our reputation as a safe, friendly and inclusive nation will only continue to strengthen.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that the vaccination process has been speeding up very quickly, in fact over 61 million doses of vaccines against covid-19 have been applied in Colombia. Of this number, more than 32.3 million correspond to the complete vaccination scheme, that is, 63.5% of the population. This is a very good rate and if we compare it with the region, we are above most other big tourism players in Latin America.
TP: What are the top attractions in Colombia?
GS: During 2021, the United States has been the main issuer of travelers to Colombia, who mostly visit big cities such as Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. As a matter of fact, the increase in terms of arrivals coming from the US, between Jan-Sep 2021 has been of 112% in comparison to the same period of 2020.
First-time visitors to Colombia are in for a treat as there is so much to discover in this country that people must come back time and time again! Colombia is much more than just a sun or cultural destination, it is a diverse country that offers adventure, nature, wildlife, gastronomy, music, history, and cityscape travel highlights all in one.
And this is in part because Colombia is the most biodiverse country per square meter in the world. The secret behind Colombia’s biodiversity lies in the fact that it spans to its Six Charming Regions, with almost every type of ecosystem, from humid rainforests and tropical coasts to open wetlands and high-altitude savannahs waiting to be explored. From the vibrant Caribbean coast and gem of Cartagena to the rugged Pacific coast and wildlife of the Chocó Pacific region, and everywhere in between, Colombia offers pristine beaches, jungle escapes and unparalleled, up-close nature encounters.
Of course, Colombia is also a blend of fascinating cultures and rich histories, with at least 84 indigenous communities and more than 60 native languages, all evidenced by a melting pot of musical of over 1,000 musical rhythms, gastronomic highlights, and vibrant cities!
In terms of suggestions of where to go —it’s very hard to pick just a few because there is so much to see!— for an epic adventure trek, there is the ‘Lost City’ or Ciudad Perdida, an archaeological site hidden deep in the jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. For a picture-perfect Caribbean coastal experience, look no further than Tayrona National Park. Palm-shaded coves, azure coastal lagoons and rainforest wildlife are found here in abundance. Or, if you prefer bright city lights and musical nights, Cali is the destination for you. The salsa capital of the world, Cali is best known for its sizzling nightlife, musical beats and fun-loving locals. For a community-led tourism experience, there is no better place than Medellín and for having the full coffee trip, the ideal place to visit would be the Coffee Cultural Landscape!
TP: What’s new and exciting for the region upcoming in 2022?
GS: As I mentioned briefly in the previous question, Colombia worked restlessly during 2020 for the readiness of the country and one of the biggest results translates in the alignment of all destinations into Six Charming Regions, carefully curated in the most intelligent and sustainable way to inspire travelers and give them reasons to explore and revisit the country. In 2022, we will keep working towards promoting these six tourist regions, and we are very excited to see how important cultural events that took a pause because of Covid are coming back, such as Barranquilla’s Carnival; the HAY Festival in Cartagena; the Petronio álvarez Festival in Cali, among others.
Those six tourist regions are:
The Greater Colombian Caribbean, Much more than golden sands and coral reefs: home of fascinating cultures to festivals and music to sacred archeological sites, to Gabriel Garcia Marquez magical realism to the world’s most beautiful colonial city – Cartagena de Indias. Authentic destinations rich in culture, nature and unforgettable experiences.
COLOMBIAN PACIFIC, Jungle and Sea Flavor: Colombia’s best kept secret is a megadiverse ecosystem where wild jungles collide with the ocean, humpback whales make epic journeys to give birth in its waters and sea turtles nest on its huge empty beaches. Of Afro-descendant and ancestral heritage, its cultural offer is world-class, thanks to the city of Cali and its Salsa, it’s delicious cuisine and its festivals.
COLOMBIAN WESTERN ANDES – Mountains of Coffee and Flowers: Region that transforms societies and looks to the future from tradition. Scenery of majestic coffee-scented mountains, extraordinarily colorful villages, talkative peasants, exotic birds, and flower-filled valleys. It is the land of the Coffee Cultural Landscape and modern Medellín: the city of Botero, the silletera culture, gastronomy and Colombian fashion.
COLOMBIAN EASTERN ANDES – Legendary Moors and Valleys: Historic Andes, where colonization and the liberating route began. Land of peaks, moors and valleys that is home to impressive Natural Parks. From the capital Bogotá, with its skyscrapers, museums, gastronomy and its rich cultural offer. The region extends north, transporting the visitor to marvelous colonial towns and a time of legends, such as El Dorado.
COLOMBIAN MASSIF – Ancestral Origins: These mysterious moors, mountains and volcanoes are the cradle of Colombian Andean culture and of the great rivers of the country. The imprint of ancient civilizations is strongly felt in its archeological parks and in its indigenous communities, which keep their ancestral knowledge alive. A destination that invites you to explore the experience of the eternal and that houses the White City of Popayán.
COLOMBIAN AMAZON-ORINOQUIA – Jungle and Sacred Plains: The green heart of Colombia is an immense mega-diverse region of ancient forests, colossal skies and thunderous rapids. The north is home to a wild landscape of virgin plains, herds and biodiverse estuaries, rich in country culture. The unexplored jungles of the south hide a universe of natural wonders, petroglyphs, ancestral indigenous knowledge and living cultures, which we must continue to preserve.
TP: How does Colombia work with travel agents?
GS: Our work with the travel agents revolves around these pillars:
Training: it is very important for us to keep the trade up to date in the latest developments and understand our destinations so that they can be familiarized and be able to assist the traveler in the most comprehensive way.
Partnerships: we work with the consortia and associations like Travel leaders, Virtuoso and Signature.
Special programs: We recently launched a rewards program for our travel agents.
FAM Trips: We conduct FAM trips with our partner airlines and tour operators.
Events: We organize trade forums in which we connect tour operators and travel agents with the Colombian suppliers. We do these ‘on-site’ type of events, both in the United States and in Colombia. A couple of the most important ones are: The Colombia U.S.A. Tourism Business Forum and the Colombia Travel Mart; each of them happen once a year.
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