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Breaking Travel News interview: Tatiana Piñeros Laverde, director general, Bogotá Tourism

Visitor numbers to Bogotá have doubled in under a decade as the Colombian capital develops a reputation as a leading destination to do business.

Ahead of the city’s host of the World Travel Awards Latin America Gala Ceremony in October, Breaking Travel News sits down at ITB Berlin with Tatiana Piñeros Laverde, director general, District Institute of Tourism of Bogotá to discuss the secrets behind its recent renaissance.

Breaking Travel News: We are once again in Germany for the annual ITB Berlin event. How important is Germany, and Europe more generally, for Bogotá as a tourism destination?

Tatiana Piñeros Laverde: According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Germany is the country which spends the most on international travel.  In 2013, Bogotá received 23,080 German tourists, according to our Immigration Department.

Europe is the second most important tourist market for Colombia. About 24 per cent of all the foreign tourists who visited Colombia in 2013 were from Europe - about 251,000 tourists.

Germany is the third largest European market for travel to Bogotá, making up about 11.3 per cent of all European visitors.

It is preceded by Spain and the United Kingdom, which amounted to 39 per cent and 12 per cent of all European visitors in 2013, respectively.

According to Procolombia, German tourists are big consumers of cultural tourism, and also of beach resort tourism.

It is not surprising then that they especially prefer travel to Bogotá and Cartagena.

Moreover, the geographic location of Colombia makes it a good entry point for Germans wishing to explore the rest of Latin America.

Work is underway to continue promoting German travel to Bogotá. Coordination between the Bogotá Tourism Institute, the Bogotá International Airport, the national government, and the tour operators, is being improved.

As a result of these efforts, for example, Lufthansa has been operating non-stop flights from Frankfurt to Bogotá since 2012. This is partly behind the recent expansion we have seen in German tourist travel to Colombia.

Additionally, the District Tourism Institute has been participating in the ITB event since 2007.

Recently we had the ‘Bogota, Infinite Possibilities’ campaign through this event in order to promote Bogotá as an interesting cultural tourist destination in the German market.

BTN: Bogotá has been explicit in its plans to establish itself as a sustainable destination by 2015; how close to achieving this ambition is the city?

TPL: In recent years, public planners have begun to recast Bogotá’s social and economic development in a way that does not endanger the natural resources of future generations.

The current zoning and environmental management policy, called ‘Human Bogotá’, which is part of the City Development Plan, is designed to confront climate change.

The plan explicitly sets forth the aim of becoming “a territory which confronts climate change and which organises itself around sustainable water usage”.

There has also been collaboration with the private sector to achieve permanent reductions in waste, recycling of as many materials as possible, and manufacturing practices oriented toward long-term recycling.

As for the sustainability of tourism, the Mayor’s Office is aware of the growth of the tourism industry in Colombia, especially in Bogotá, the primary tourist destination in the country, and of the added strain this might impose on diminishing natural resources.

This has led us to pose a series of questions in search of better practices and sustainable solutions for the conservation of the very features, tangible and intangible, which attract tourists to the Colombian capital in the first place.

The District Tourism Institute of Bogotá, which is part of the Mayor’s Office, has been working together with the business community, as well as the broader community of citizens in general, to design solutions to mitigate climate change, in line with the Mayor’s public policy.

For example, the Institute has been working on the recovery and protection of watersheds and natural springs in order to make the city a more sustainable and liveable place for citizens and tourists alike.

In particular, the Agrotouristic routes of La Requilina and Los Quiches are two initiatives which, with government support, have successfully integrated the interests of local communities in the dynamics of the tourism economy, and which raise awareness among foreign visitors about the importance of protecting the city’s natural heritage. 

The initiative also serves to set a clear boundary between urban and rural zones, and to preserve the customs and traditions of the rural farming communities.

The Tourism Quality and Sustainability Program supports tourism service providers seeking certification in these matters through training, capacity building, and consultancy activities.

The Program also leverages contracts between the providers and the certifying agency. To date, this has helped more than 190 tourism service providers obtain certification.

Another project along the lines of new sustainable tourism products is the ‘Natural Treasures’ initiative.

Bogotá is an immense metropolis. Indeed, it is one of the largest and most populated cities in Latin America.

In spite of this, Bogotá is endowed with rich natural resources, as reflected in the Eastern Cordillera and the páramo of Sumapaz, which is the largest high savannah in the world.

There are also more than 4,000 parks within the city, most notably the Parque Simon Bolivar, Parque Entrenubes, and the Mirador de los Nevados, as well as wetlands and other important natural attractions.

Currently, Seven Natural Treasures have been identified in Bogotá. This is the first step in defining clear guidelines for the development of eco-friendly tourism in the capital.

Finally, as regards the prevention of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, the Institute has designed a strategy to strengthen tourism businesses and service providers in their responsibility as a first line defence against such abuses in Bogotá. 

So far, 59 service providers, including restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, transportation agencies, and tour guides, have been certified as agents of prevention.

BTN: International visitors now regard Bogotá as a safe destination to visit after a recent opening to global investment. In what ways is this change helping to develop the tourism infrastructure in the city?

TPL: Bogotá enjoys a number of advantages deriving from several important inherent qualities such as: international trade agreements, geostrategic location and accessibility, skilled bilingual labour, competitive costs, and an excellent business climate and investment incentives - to name but a few.

These qualities attract foreign investment in high value added sectors, which in turn generates employment and improved competitiveness, which in turn attracts more investment, and so on, in a virtuous circle.

Internationally, Bogotá is looked upon favourably as a sustainable, competitive destination in the tourist market. It’s worth mentioning that 43 per cent of the tourists who visit Bogotá do so for business reasons.

Bogotá is often mentioned as one of the main business centres of Latin America, together with the likes of Miami, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Santiago, and Panama City.  In its last annual ranking, América Economía magazine ranked Bogotá as the sixth best city to do business in Latin America.

Bogotá offers big investment opportunities, and for this reason there are currently more than 1,494 multinational corporations, mainly from the US, Spain, France, Chile, and Germany, that maintain a business presence in the Colombian capital.

The current level of foreign direct investment demonstrates a high degree of international confidence in Colombia; and the number of tourists continues to grow year after year as a consequence of this.

Roughly USD$11.5 million have been invested in Bogotá over the last ten years, 53 per cent of which has gone into the service sectors, four per cent of which has gone into hotels and tourism, thereby generating about 40,000 direct jobs in Bogotá.

The upshot is that there has been a big increase in the number of international tourist arrivals.

Back in 2005, we used to receive 400,000 international tourists per year. Just eight years later, in 2014, we received more than a million.

BTN: La Candelaria, the key tourism area of Bogotá, has recently aimed to extend opening its hours and foster a more international flavour. Can you bring us up to date with developments there?

TPL: An effort is underway to extend hours of attention in Bogotá’s historic centre, known as La Candelaria. For example, every month there is an organised cultural event called ‘La Candelaria Awake’ night, where the restaurants, businesses, art galleries, and museums in the historic district stay open until very late at night.

The neighbourhood definitely has potential, with 136 tourist attractions, over 300 restaurants, and the largest open air jewellery handicrafts market in South America.

Given its cultural richness, and the history told by its colonial architecture, La Candelaria has always been at the heart of the Colombian tourism industry. 

The District Tourism Institute has supported these qualities, which are of high value added from a cultural perspective, and in terms of the preservation of customs and traditions. 

Along these lines, several touristic products have been developed with the specific goal of preserving this heritage and of making it more accessible to tourists.

BTN: Bogotá is set to host the World Travel Awards Latin America Gala Ceremony 2015 later this year – welcoming the organisation to the country for the first time. Can you tell us a little about how this came about and what your ambitions are for the event?

TPL: In 2013, for the first time, Bogotá had an institutional presence at the World Travel Awards Gala Ceremony.

Those representing Colombia at this event took advantage of the opportunity to establish their first public relations connections through the vice presidency of the Organization, and informally proposed that Bogotá be the host of the Latin American awards event.

Not long thereafter, Bogotá was nominated as the best city for business travel in Latin America, and this significantly raised the prospects of Bogotá being selected as the host of the 2015 awards. 

This is a perfect opportunity to raise and consolidate Colombia’s profile as an attractive destination for business travellers and tourists, and to show the world why Bogotá is a city of infinite possibilities, and why it is one of the best tourist destinations in Latin America.

This event will increase hotel occupancy and tourist arrivals in Colombia, and will give Bogotá access to a broader market of some 90 million potential customers worldwide.

The district Tourism Institute, the tourism associations, and Bogotá as the Latin American WTA host city, are working hard not only to make this gala event an unforgettable night, but also so that attendees can enjoy the best that Bogotá has to offer, whatever their particular interests may be. 

And so we invite you to come and see for yourself that Bogotá is a city standing tall, a city of infinite possibilities.

More Information

For more on visiting Bogotá head over to the official tourism website.