Having recently been appointed to the role of executive director with ProColombia in the United Kingdom, Felipe Angel here sits down with Breaking Travel News editor Chris O’Toole to discuss the future of tourism in the country.
On the agenda is the expected dividend of on-going peace negotiations with FARC rebels, the growth of MICE tourism in capital Bogotá and the developing airlift into this emerging South American destination.
Fears over security have long dominated British traveller’s thoughts when considering a trip to Colombia, with concerns the country may not be safe putting a few off a visit.
But, increasingly, this view is outdated, with Colombia rapidly emerging as one of the most sought after destinations in South America, matching a sophisticated MICE sector with growing adventure, religious and beach tourism sectors.
In the UK, getting this message of change out is now in the hands of Felipe Angel, newly appointed managing director of ProColombia.
Taking up his role in late March, he is a man bursting with enthusiasm for the bright future of the country.
“We want to focus on the positive things about Colombia,” he tells Breaking Travel News during a recent interview at the ProColombia offices in central London.
“Of course I understand we have had some issues in the past, but there are many good things happening at present, with regard to the peace process, which will bring many benefits to the country.
“ProColombia aims to prepare the country for the many benefits that will follow once peace is achieved.”
With the Colombian government seemingly inching closer to a comprehensive peace deal with FARC rebels, bringing to an end a civil war that began in 1964, there is certainly much to be positive about.
National flag-carrier Avianca recently announced it will go daily on its route to Bogotá out of London Heathrow, for example, giving a huge boost to business travel in the capital.
With recent changes to Air Passenger Duty also coming into effect in the UK, flights are considerably cheaper.
A long-haul ticket for an adult is £14 cheaper than it was this time last year, while from May 1st children will pay no tax at all.
At the same time Turkish Airlines plans to launch new flights in October, while a new KLM service started in March this year, illustrating the rapid ascent of airlift into the country.
Hotels, too, are booming, with the Four Seasons taking over the operation of two properties in Bogotá this year, and a new InterContinental Hotels opening its doors in tourism capital Cartagena.
With the Corferias Convention Centre in Bogotá also being renovated there is a feeling of growing momentum about Colombian tourism.
“At ProColombia we are building an organisation which will benefit the whole of the country,” continues Angel.
“We have 30 offices dotted around the world with the same ProColombia mission – we work as a marketing department for Colombian companies.
“We work to attract interest in Colombia and to manage the country brand around the world.”
The figures support his optimistic tone, with Colombia seeing a sharp uptick in visitors from its most important markets last year.
The United States for example sent roughly 380,000 travellers last year, while 270,000 guests arrived From Venezuela and more than 100,000 people visited from Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.
“From the UK we saw 32,000 visitors to Colombia last year – a new record and up from 25,000 in 2013,” adds Angel.
“Spain, too, remains a large market for us, and the largest in the European Union,” enthuses Angel.
Not that ProColombia is taking anything for granted as it continues to redefine the tourism sector.
Official tourism website Colombia.travel recently received a substantial upgrade, and now provides British travellers preparing a visit with everything they could need to know.
At the same time, Learn Colombia has been developed to help agents learn the different ways to sell Colombia by theme or interest with many helpful tips to pass onto clients.
With the pound also appreciating against the Colombian peso in recent months, British traveller’s money will stretch further.
But it is the variety in the offering Angel is keen to stress.
He continues: “There are things in Colombia which you cannot find anywhere else.
“Our biodiversity, for example, is among the highest in the world.
“Birds or whales, we have the best in the world – our nature product is very strong.
“Carnivals, too, are a key area.
“Every city in the country has a carnival; Barranquilla for example is second only to Rio de Janeiro in importance in South America.
“Feria de Cali at the end of the year is also very important for visitors.
“We are also aimed at an adventure; trekking, climbing, and white-water rafting are also on offer.
“This is our biggest strength; there are so many things to do in Colombia.”
ProColombia provides business opportunities, information, and strategies for expanding relationships in Colombia.
Head over to the official website for more.
Images courtesy of ProColombia