Breaking Travel News
Breaking Travel News interview: Flavia Santoro, president, ProColombia

Breaking Travel News interview: Flavia Santoro, president, ProColombia

Colombia has announced a new brand manifesto for the destination: ‘Colombia, the most welcoming place on Earth.’

With the restart of international travel on the horizon, the country aims to stimulate international tourism growth and ignite travellers’ wanderlust by spotlighting the warmth and kindness of its populace.

The new manifesto, which is led by ProColombia, is the result of extensive quantitative and qualitative research, which identifies the core essence of Colombia to be the warmth and kindness of its people.

Here Breaking Travel News chats with Flavia Santoro, President of ProColombia, to find out more.


Breaking Travel News: Where does tourism in Colombia stand in July 2021? Are the borders open to travellers? What requirements are currently in place to slow the spread of Covid-19?

Flavia Santoro: International air connectivity in Colombia is open.

Today the country is connected to 22 countries with 21 airlines, which means that we have recovered 62 per cent of the air frequencies we had in early 2020.

And during 2021, 28 new routes have been announced, flying from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Peru and 15 of these have already started operations.

New guidelines for the arrival of international travellers to our country include the following:

  • It is not mandatory to present a negative PCR test before the flight.
  • Travellers must fill out the Check-Mig form at least one to 24 hours before the flight.
  • Travellers must wear masks at all times.
  • They must report symptoms associated with Covid-19: cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or fatigue and should not board if they have these symptoms.
  • International passengers are obliged to give real information about their health status, their recent contact with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19, comply with the instructions of the health authorities and give exact information about their telephone number and address in Colombia. Foreign travellers must provide a national telephone number so they can be easily contacted.

BTN: There is hope the situation may return to something like normal over the coming months as vaccines begin to impact on the virus. What are your ambitions, in terms of visitor numbers, for Colombia this year?

FS: We are very optimistic about the future of tourism in Colombia.

The country had been enjoying steady, year-on-year growth in visitor numbers prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with the annual number of visitors in the 2012-2018 period growing at nearly double the average world rate.

Also, growth between 2014 and 2019 rose 11.6 per cent.

Average international tourism growth in the Americas between 2012 and 2019 was 4.4 per cent, less than half of the 9.1 per cent Colombia saw.

We are sure that we will continue improving on the good numbers that we have already been registering.

According to a recent study by Despegar, one of the most important online travel agencies on the continent, Colombia is one of the countries in the region with the greatest recovery of its tourism sector above countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the United States.

There are also very good projections regarding the arrival of non-resident travellers to Colombia according to a study by FowardKeys, which reports more than 115 thousand air reservations made to our country, mostly from the United States, Chile, Spain, Argentina and France for travel in April – September 2021.

BTN: The country has seen continued political unrest in recent weeks – is this impacting on reopening, or tourism promotion, plans?

FS: The world has faced extremely challenging times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Colombia has not been an exception.

However, our country is an example of how difficult times can be transformed in a positive way.

With a rich and diverse history Colombia has been through periods of transition and growth, always remaining resilient with a spirit of warmth and openness at its heart. We know we will rise again stronger together from the current situation.

We will continue to make every effort to promote the prompt recovery of our tourism industry, we are working to adapt the sector to the new requirements of international and local travellers.

We strongly believe tourism is a powerful and transformative tool for local communities with a tremendous impact on the development of the regions and we are looking to leverage this.

Colombia has undergone a positive transformation in recent years, and we have earned recognition as a must visit destination and key commercial ally for many markets.

People who visit Colombia know that Colombians are extremely friendly, welcoming, and warm!

There is no doubt that nowadays, Colombia is one of the trendiest destinations.

We are proud to won recognition at the World Travel Awards Latin America Gala Ceremony in 2020.

These same awards nominated the country again this year in 22 categories highlighting our biodiversity and cultural wealth.

We have also been considered 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.

BTN: As the market begins to reopen, ProColombia has launched a new, consumer-facing manifesto for the country. What can you tell us about that?

FS: Yes, I’m delighted to announce the destination’s new brand manifesto is ‘Colombia, the most welcoming place on Earth.’

At a time when a warm welcome, a kind embrace and a feeling of true community has never been so important, we feel that our bold yet simple message encapsulates what global travellers are seeking.

To clarify, we conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research with more than 1,500 surveys and focus groups with Colombians and foreigners to identify what the core essence of Colombia is and ultimately, the warmth and kindness of our people lay at the heart of it.

When people say you can judge a place by its people, I couldn’t agree more and this is precisely why Colombia has chosen to build its new manifesto narrative around the warmth and kindness for which our people are known.

The international launch will be on Monday, July 19th and while we appreciate that those with wanderlust may need to wait a little longer before experiencing the warmth of

Colombia first-hand, we invite travellers and travel trade alike to experience ‘the most welcoming place on Earth’ via our dedicated ‘Neighbourhood of Neighbourhoods’ webpage.

Designed to look like a map of Colombia with local communities, the interactive ‘map’ will help visitors discover each of the six Colombian regions, showcasing it as a melting pot of cultures, flavours, rhythms and colours all underpinned by a consistent, familiar and local welcome.

With authentic video content and local narratives, we hope the ‘Neighbourhood of Neighbourhoods’ webpage will act as an extension of Colombia’s community, demonstrating its welcoming ethos and extensive offering.

We like to say ‘whatever you are looking for and whatever your needs, Colombia is a place where you don’t have to knock, because the door is always open’.

BTN: The new campaign seeks to place the people of Colombia as central to its offering. How is this different from how the country has been promoted in the past?

FS: We highly value the Colombia Country Brand; it is an asset that has informed the world about our wonderful country for the last ten years.

First, the message was “Colombia is Passion”.

It focused on showing the creativity, resourcefulness, talent and passion that characterises Colombians.

It served to reawaken a sense of national belonging and thanks to this foundation, in 2012, we moved to “The Answer is Colombia,” a message focused on telling the world that we were the answer to all its needs.

With this message, we focused on using facts and data to demonstrate the important progress that Colombia had made in terms of competitiveness.

With “The Answer is Colombia,” we decided to align the campaigns to promote ProColombia’s lines of work: non-mining and non-energy exports, foreign direct investment and international tourism.

ProColombia will incorporate these campaigns into the new Manifesto while retaining many of the prior campaigns’ elements and messages.

This manifesto has been created to get back to the beginning of it all, as the studies carried out demonstrate that Colombians’ warmth is what we are known for globally.

We are getting back to people, to what makes us unique.

BTN: How important is tourism to Colombia and how do you expect this to change over the coming years?

FS: In the last decade, tourism in Colombia has become an important source of foreign exchange and employment for the country.
President Duque has called the sector “the new petroleum”.

In 2019, the tourism sector reached historic figures: 4.5 million non-resident visitors arrived in the country, an increase of three per cent compared with 2018; hotel occupancy was 57 per cent (the highest in the last 15 years) and generated 6,751 million dollars, two per cent more than in 2018, which makes it the non-mining energy sector that generated the most foreign currency that year.

Last year was undoubtedly a year of high expectations for the sector.

However, the pandemic forced Colombia to change plans and quickly adapt to the new conditions.

So, we took isolation as an opportunity to prepare a safe reactivation of the tourism sector and at ProColombia we created a recovery plan with three priorities: adapting to change, facilitating air connectivity and generating confidence in the international traveller to visit Colombian destinations.

For us sustainability is more than an attribute, it is the heart and the pillar of our tourism industry.

We are making steady progress in this regard.

For example, the ministry of trade, industry and tourism reformed the general tourism law, putting sustainability as a fundamental axis.

It now formally recognises that the protection of the environment and local communities is essential for the recovery of the Colombian tourism industry after the pandemic.

In addition, we are the second most biodiverse country in the world; ornithologically, we come top with more than 1,900 species of birds, we also come top for our orchids and recently for butterflies too, as declared by the Natural History Museum of London’s study.

Also, we are second place for amphibians, third for plants and reptiles and fourth for mammals.

This means great responsibility that we embrace with total commitment.

More Information

ProColombia is a government entity responsible for promoting international tourism and foreign direct investment in Colombia, non-mining energy exports and the country brand.

Through its national and international network of offices, it offers Colombian companies support and comprehensive advice through services or instruments focused on encouraging the design and execution of their international strategies, as well as facilitating the generation and development of business opportunities.

Images: ProColombia