Colombia tourism grows despite drop worldwide


BOGOTA – Tourism in Colombia grew 9 percent from January to August this year compared with the same period in 2008, despite the general decline in the sector worldwide, the government said.

Although the sector throughout the world has fallen 8 percent due to the economic crisis, Colombia “is growing at a rate of 9 percent,” the minister of trade, industry and tourism, Luis Guillermo Plata, said Friday at a press conference in Bogota.

Thanks to this growth, Colombia is currently “at a level comparable” to Argentina, a country that has always been seen as “the great tourist destination,” but which, according to Plata, has had a decrease of more than 38 percent this year.

Arriving in Colombia between January and August 2008 were 819,613 foreign tourists, while in the same time this year 894,742 visitors entered the country, or an increase of 9.2 percent.

During the period studied, the number of cruise ships calling at ports in the country also increased, going from 99 to 125, as did the number of passengers, from 130,042 to 206,458.

The biggest growth in this area took place in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, which by August had welcomed 23 cruise ships with 43,778 passengers, compared with eight cruises and 6,303 passengers in the same period the year before.

In announcing these figures, the minister also revealed some of the projects that the government is launching to continue promoting the sector.

Among them, Plata mentioned a project to regulate informal guest houses, tougher penalties for those practicing sexual tourism with minors, and a plan for touristic signposting.

With regard to safety for tourists in Colombia, which has been the scene of an armed conflict for half a century, the minister said that the situation “has changed dramatically” in recent years, though he acknowledged that “there’s still a lot to do” in that area.

He did say, however, that the national average number of homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants has been cut in half, going from 66 (one of the highest in the world) to 32 at present.

“Nowadays, Colombia as a nation and its principal tourist destinations have lower crime rates” than cities like Washington, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Plata said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe continues to enjoy high approval ratings in his country and is beloved by upper-class Colombians for his U.S.-backed army’s success against leftist rebels.

The conservative president is also widely credited with bringing greater security to large cities and highways.