This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 8/17/2018
Overview
 
Table 1 – Colombia Travel and Tourism Data (18) 
 
YearTotal Travelers to USAPercentage Growth
2013748,00024%
2014881,00018%
2015854,000-3%
2016835,000-2%
2016 (through September)592,816 
2017 (through September)520,157-12.3%
Sources: Office of Tourism Industries; International Trade Administration; U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Travel Association; Ministry of Commerce and Tourism

Opportunities for U.S. companies in Colombia’s tourism sector encompass services that U.S. companies can offer Colombian visitors to the United States as well as tourism infrastructure and services that U.S. companies can provide to the Colombian market. Recent political stability and increased prosperity in Colombia bode well for the tourism sector in that more Colombians are traveling internationally and more of Colombia’s national territory is open to tourism. 2017 was a record year for tourism-generated revenue in Colombia, and the country’s government is actively promoting the sector after years of hostilities with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces) guerrillas hampered its development. Colombia’s beaches, mountains, colonial cities, coffee plantations, and oceans are capturing attention from international travelers, and the United States and Colombia are being connected by a growing number of direct, nonstop flights. Opportunities exist in Colombia for U.S. companies specializing in hotel and restaurant development and equipment, hospitality training and education, eco-tourism, ocean sports, and guided tours. Likewise, the United States will benefit from an increase in Colombian tourists, especially as Colombians venture beyond the traditional destinations of Miami, New York, and Los Angeles.  

In terms of international travelers to the United States, Colombia ranked 14th in 2016, with 835,000 travelers, a two percent annual decrease. As of September 2017, Colombia ranked 16th, with 520,157 travelers. The slight decline in visitors can be attributed to the relatively weak Colombian peso and tepid consumer spending in 2017, due in part to a tax reform package that raised the country’s consumption tax (VAT) and other taxes in January 2017. 

The Travel and Tourism market represents approximately three percent of Colombia’s GDP and is the third leading source of foreign exchange behind oil and coal. Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) announced that the country’s tourism revenues reached nearly USD 5.8 billion in 2017, an annual increase of 5.4%. The country received more than 6.5 million foreign tourists in 2017, an annual increase of 24% over the five million foreign visitors in 2016. Revenues from tourism have nearly doubled since 2010, according to MinCIT, and the government’s goal is to reach USD six billion in tourism revenues by 2018. The increase in airline routes to Colombia has been a significant contributor to tourism growth. Last year alone the Colombian civil aviation authorities approved 42 new national routes and 20 new international routes for 15 airlines. The latest announcement is by American Airlines which will offer a direct route between Miami and Pereira starting in December 2018. 

The Colombian Government is making rural development and tourism high priorities to ensure the recently signed peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas is sustainable and to diversify the economy from oil dependence. New opportunities in the tourism sector are emerging for U.S. firms beyond the traditional accommodation of Colombian travelers to the United States. After years of conflict with the FARC, Colombia’s tourism sector had been unable to reach its potential, especially in the more remote areas of the country that have potential for eco-tourism, agriculture tourism (coffee plantations), mountain hiking, river rafting, observation of birds, camping, rainforest exploration, etc. As crime decreases, the country’s image abroad improves, infrastructure improvements are made to the county’s highway system, and as the government pushes to develop this industry, Colombia’s domestic tourism sector could see significant growth, and with it will come demand for hospitality services, training, hotel construction and renovations, tourism operators, hotel equipment and furnishings, and other related exports from the United States.

The United States is the most popular travel destination for Colombians, who last year spent about USD 2.3 billion in the U.S. (excluding airfares) on food, car rental, hotels, sightseeing, and shopping. The length of stay for Colombians in the U.S. varies, but is usually approximately seven nights. However, for those with relatives in the U.S., the average stay ranges from two to four weeks. The time of travel usually corresponds to school calendars and typically takes place from November to early February, during Easter week (a national holiday in Colombia), and from June to late August. Since April 2012, when the State Department increased the validity of B-1 and B-2 visit visas for Colombians traveling on a temporary basis to the U.S. from five years to 10 years, the number of Colombians traveling to the United States has increased over 20%. Colombia is forecast to resume growth in travelers to the United States in the coming years and reach 194,000 visitors (23% growth) by 2021.

The change in visa validity is part of the U.S. Government’s effort to expand its partnership with Colombia to increase tourism. Additionally, the U.S. Government has streamlined the visa application process in order to reduce interview wait times. The Trade Promotion Agreement between U.S. and Colombia and the increase in Colombian investments in the United States are further stimulating business travel between the two countries.

The “Open Skies” air transport agreement signed in 2011 by the U.S. and Colombia expanded the strong linkages between the two countries, benefiting U.S. and Colombian businesses and travelers by expanding air service and encouraging competition among airlines, while safeguarding aviation safety and security. Airlines from the United States and Colombia are allowed to select routes, destinations, and prices for both passenger and cargo service based on consumer demand and market conditions. This agreement significantly increased air traffic between the two countries in the last three years. Currently, more than 200 weekly flights operate between Colombia and the United States. This has also led to an increase in the number of airline seats offered from 12.8 million in 2013 to 16.7 million seats in 2017. The domestic market has also increased from 23 million to 30.2 million during the same period.

Five U.S. airlines provide non-stop, daily flights between Colombia and the United States: Delta (from Atlanta), United Airlines (from Houston and New York), American Airlines (from Miami and Dallas), Spirit (from Fort Lauderdale), and Jet Blue (from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale). Non-U.S. airlines (Copa, LATAM, Viva Colombia) also operate on some of these routes. Colombian airline Avianca provides non-stop flights to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, New York, Washington-Dulles, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. Satena is Colombia’s government-owned airline and is the only non-affiliated carrier in the country.

Colombian visa-holders are eligible to apply for Global Entry, a program that expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select international airports. At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport and visa, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. The program costs $100 and membership lasts 5 years, making it a great option for frequent travelers to the U.S.
Frequent travelers to Colombia might be interested in Colombia’s trusted traveler program, Migración Automática. Travelers can register at airports for the program, which has a duration of two years. More information can be found at the  Migration Colombia website.
 
Most Colombians organize their trips through a local travel agent and are known to be last minute planners, especially to overseas destinations. The Internet has begun to affect the competitive balance in the travel and tourism industry as it provides an efficient vehicle for information access, marketing, purchasing, and paying for services. Most of the local travel agents have developed their own travel websites to offer online flight booking, hotels, and car rentals.

Colombians are diversifying their travel habits and selecting other countries for their vacation plans. Latin American countries, especially Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, and Ecuador have become increasingly popular destinations. These countries are attractive alternatives because there is no visa required and promotional packages that include low airfares and all-inclusive hotel or resort rates are readily available. Strong competition from alternative destinations combined with the strong U.S. dollar make it imperative for the U.S. travel and tourism industry to consistently offer promotions to Colombian consumers.

Leading Sub-Sectors
  • Air transportation services
  • Hotels, lodging facilities (including new construction and renovations to existing facilities)
  • Hospitality management and training services
  • Ecotourism and adventure tourism
  • Passenger car rental
  • Restaurants
  • Sightseeing tours
  • Amusement: theme parks, natural parks
  • Shopping
  • Special interest (sports, arts, entertainment)
  • Beaches
  • Cruises
  • Health insurance cards
 
Opportunities
Colombia has great potential for investment in the following tourist niches:

Entertainment: amusement park construction, entertainment venues, and auditoriums enabled for concert events;
Nature: eco-luxury hotels, eco-glamping, eco-lodges/cabins with eco-friendly infrastructure (trails, paths, observation of birds);
Sun and beach: luxury hotels, boutique hotels, and golf resorts;
Urban hotels: full, limited and select service hotels, and hotels with convention centers;
Wellness tourism: hotels with spa and wellness centers, including thermal infrastructure and thalassotherapy;
Luxury hotels: currently there are more than 20 luxury hotels distributed mainly around the cities of Bogotá and Cartagena, and seven new hotels are expected to arrive in the country in the coming years.

The increasing flow of foreign travelers coming to Colombia is creating a growing demand for hotel services. Several major international hotel chains have started construction of new facilities or are increasing their properties in Colombia. Marriott opened a new hotel in Cali in 2015 and is planning to open 10 more in the following three years; Hilton has 14 properties in Colombia and plans to open nine hotels in other cities (Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga and Medellin); Holiday Inn plans to open three new hotels in Bogotá, Barranquilla and Cartagena; Tryp and Wyndham opened a new hotel in Bogotá and plan to open 43 motels in Colombia in the next three years with the brands Days Inn and Super 8; Hyatt opened their first Hyatt Regency in Cartagena in December 2016 and will open two hotels in Bogotá- a Grand Hyatt and a Hyatt Place in 2018. Additionally, Sonesta and Decameron have announced their plans to build hotels in the cities of Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena, with 63 new hotels (4,600 rooms) to be completed by 2018.

According to the Colombian government’s export promotion agency ProColombia, local governments offer incentives in the form of an income tax exemption for ecotourism services for 20 years, beginning in 2003 and expiring in 2022. Once the benefit expires, these companies will be subject to the income tax rate of 33%.
Other incentives:
  • Tax duty exemption and VAT deferral on capital goods used for tourism
  • Legal stability agreements to guarantee investment projects
  • Tax discounts by hiring new employees under 28, handicapped, displaced, or women over 40 years
Trade Events
Vitrina Turistica - Annual trade show organized by the Association of Travel Agencies and Tourism (ANATO)
February 27 – March 1, 2019
Bogotá, Colombia
 
Web Resources
Norcia Ward
U.S. Commercial Service Bogotá
Phone: 571-275-2703
Email: Norcia.WardMarin@trade.gov
 
Key Contacts
Colombian Association of Travel Agencies and Tourism (ANATO)
Colombian Special Administrative Unit for Civil Aeronautics (UAEAC) 
Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (Mincit)
Office of Travel and Tourism Industries
 

[18] National Travel and Tourism Office - International Trade Administration - U.S. Department of Commerce; U.S. Travel Association; Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. 

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Colombia Travel and Tourism Trade Development and Promotion