Colombia has been named the number one trending destination for tourism in 2020 by the United States Tour Operators Association, and the experts at True Colombia Travel and Cannúa say this is only the beginning, as new hotels, flight paths and mindsets are driving change in the country’s tourism industry.
For the latter half of the last decade, backpackers have dominated the tourism scene in Colombia – typically younger travelers with ample time yet modest budgets. According to Brian Schon, co-founder and director of True Colombia Travel, a locally-owned and led tour operator offering custom cultural, culinary and environmental tours throughout Colombia, the next five years will see incredible changes in the way travelers can experience Colombia, giving way to a different type of visitor.
“From the type of hotels being built, to the increased accessibility from North America and what’s opening up within the country, it’s really incredible to see Colombia’s tourism growth unfolding in front of our eyes,” Schon says. “The country is only just starting to realize its tourism potential when it comes to being upscale and unique, and it is on track to be a major destination this decade for discerning travelers, looking for more luxury options, quick getaways and responsible practices.”
Here are several key predictions from Colombia’s travel experts for the next few years:
Shorter Trips Packed with Punch
As airlines start to offer more direct flights to Colombia from Canada and the United States, more North Americans will take advantage of Colombia as a quick getaway location, opening up whole new realm of unexplored opportunities for northern dwellers looking for an accessible, warm-weather escape.
“In the past, most visitors came for at least 10 days, with many of them staying 2 weeks, 3 weeks, even a month – in large part because it was so complicated to get here,” says Schon. “Now we are starting to get a ton of requests for week-long trips or even 4-5 days. People are recognizing that they can pop down to Colombia the same way they would to Florida, Puerto Rico or Mexico.”
While longer trips allow travelers to see more of Colombia and get to know the culture, Schon says there is still a lot of value in a short visit.
“The beauty of Colombia is you can go from the mountains to the beach within the same day, so there are lots of options to people who are short on time, especially if they stick to a specific geographic region,” says Schon. “In Antioquia, for example, guests can spend five days paragliding, hiking on pre-hispanic trails, exploring local caves, searching for wild hippos, and liberating endangered turtles.”
“Cutting down on layovers and travel time makes a quick jaunt to Colombia a lot more accessible, and North Americans will continue to discover this.”
More Boutique Luxury Hotels in Rural Areas
Colombia has seen incredible growth in its hotel sector, moving from a hostel-focused industry to one with luxury offerings in the big city centers of Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota, and Barranquilla. But with the recent opening of the boutique retreat Cannúa – sister company of True Colombia Travel – on Dec. 1, 2019 in Antioquia, hotel development is now starting to extend to rural areas.
“The magic of Colombia really comes from our rural areas – the Andes mountain towns, the Amazon basins, the unexplored Pacific Coast,” says Santiago Giraldo, General Manager and co-founder of Cannúa. “Typically, non-backpacking travelers base themselves in city centers, as there are lots of luxury offers there, and take day trips to rural regions; now, however, they can start to enjoy that same level of luxury in some of the most beautiful pockets of the country.”
Giraldo predicts there will be a rush over the next five years to construct these types of rural, high-end retreats, allowing for people to base themselves in remote areas closer to small villages, pre-hispanic treks or rushing waterfalls – especially as there is proof this concept works.
“We’ve seen this happen before in other countries with strong tourism sectors,” Giraldo says. “People are already latching on to what Cannúa offers, just as people latched onto the eco retreats of Costa Rica and the jungle villas of Thailand and the mountain lodges of Peru – and investors are sure to start taking notice soon, too.”
Responsible Approaches to Unexplored Regions
The past few years saw areas of Colombia open up to travelers and locals alike following the country’s historic peace accord in 2016, including the jungles around Puerto Berrio and the wild Pacific Coast, but some of it went too far: the Caño Cristales, a river known as the “melted rainbow” for its vibrant, multicolored hue, became such a popular, Instagrammable site that access to the area was restricted from visitor traffic in 2017 to give the overloaded ecosystem a break.
With international travelers concerned with their environmental and cultural impact more than ever before, the next five years of travel in Colombia will see stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industry focus on responsible growth.
“There’s a lot of potential for tourism to make a positive impact in these former ‘no-go zones,’ but it’s important that it’s developed in the right way,” Schon says. “We want to help make sure these communities are directly benefiting from opportunities created by tourism, and the ecosystems of Colombia – the second-most biodiverse country in the world – are protected.”
In an effort to ensure these newly accessible regions do not become exploited or overcrowded, True Colombia Travels partners with local communities in every region they operate within to build thoughtful experiences focused on small-group, low-impact travel.
“Our guests want to engage with nature, but they are also highly educated about the impact that travel can have on local communities and on the environment,” says Schon. “Colombian operators, especially those who see the potential for growth in these newly-accessible regions, are going to have to answer to international travelers who are focused on these issues and make responsible travel practices top-of-mind across the industry.”
For more information about True Colombia Travel’s fully-customized cultural, culinary and environmental tours in all corners of the country, visit www.truecolombiatravel.com.
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