Colombia Tourism Grows
Helped by improved security, Colombia is seeing a strong increase in international tourist arrivals. Overall, Latin America set a new tourism record last year. Guatemala grew most, Ecuador the least.
BY CHRONICLE STAFF
DESPITE HOSTING ONE of Latin America's most attractive and scenic cities - the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena - Colombia has suffered for years from its negative image as a violent-prone country of drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas.
Thanks to ambitious efforts by President Alvaro Uribe the past few years, however, that is changing. The Uribe government has improved security through an aggressive campaign against insurgents and apolitical criminals, while actively promoting the country internationally. Both Uribe and his foreign minister Carolina Barco travel frequently abroad to tell of the "other Colombia" and have sponsored large delegations of foreign business people to Colombia.
The strategy is paying off: Last year, Colombia could register a 24.2 percent increase in the number of international visitors. So far this year, arrivals in Colombia are up 15.4 percent.
"The improving security is a factor to consider in the 15 percent increase registered in arrivals during the first quarter in 2005," the World Tourism Organisation says in its latest report on tourism worldwide.
Colombia's tourism success is not isolated. Guatemala, another country plagued by a nagetive image in terms of violence, actually saw an even larger increase last year: 34.3 percent. That was the highest growth of any destination in the region and was largely driven by the same factors behind Colombia's growth: increased promotion and improved security.
All in all, 60.5 million international tourists visited Latin America and the Caribbean last year. That was an increase of 11.3 percent from 2003 and a new record. Last year's figures passed the previous record - 57.6 million tourists in 2000.
And the number will likely increase further this year, helped by strong growth during the first five months this year.
"The end of the high season in Central and South America and in the Caribbean destinations brings very positive results as these continue to benefit from an improving economic situation in the USA and from a favorable US dollar/euro exchange rate that leads American and European tourists alike to seek US dollar "pegged" countries," the WTO said in its latest issue of the World Tourism Barometer, which was released in June. "In addition some destinations also might have gained to a certain extent from a traffic shift from tsunami affected destinations in Asia