The April 2012 US Secret Service scandal, in which agents are accused of having hired Colombian prostitutes while on duty during the Summit of the Americas, appears to have had no impact on Colombian tourism.
Maria Claudia Lacouture is the president of PROEXPORT, Colombia's tourism, trade, and export promotion entity. Lacouture, who earned her Masters of Economics and Marketing from Cornell, aims to double the number of visitors to Colombia during her tenure.
What does the future of trade and tourism look like for Colombia? Lacouture says it looks bright. With the free trade agreement, an improvement in the World Bank's rating of Colombia as a friendly place to do business, and decreased violence, PROEXPORT expects that both trade and tourism between Colombia and the US will increase exponentially in the next five years.
Part of the existing strategy for attracting travelers to Colombia, says Lacouture, is leveraging blogs and social media to tell Colombia's stories. PROEXPORT selected several dozen bloggers, most of them expats, as "official bloggers of Colombia." For the period of one year, the bloggers are given logistical support and funding to travel around the country and share stories of their travels with readers. Lacouture says PROEXPORT has been very pleased with the results of the program and will consider expanding the role of bloggers in the next fiscal year.
Lacouture says PROEXPORT is actively working with traditionally marginalized communities, including Afro-Colombians, to provide support for their increased involvement in export, trade, and tourism. PROEXPORT is currently working with Afro-Colombian communities on the Pacific coast to develop a tourism product that will be run by community members.
Colombia and the United States signed a free trade agreement in May 2012 that increased to 10,000 the number of products with 0% tariff. Under the new agreement, which has no expiration date, Colombian textiles will likely enter the US at an unprecedented rate and in unprecedented quantities. From employee uniforms to haute couture, Colombia plans to increase textile exports to the US substantially.
So what are the actual risks Colombia poses to travelers? The US State Department maintains a travel warning for Americans intending to visit Colombia, though it notes that "[s]ecurity in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years." The crimes tourists are most susceptible to in other areas of the world--pickpocketing and currency exchange scams-- are the most common crimes travelers become victims of in Colombia, too.
The "only risk" ad and marketing campaign was run in English and in Spanish. The idea behind the campaign, according to a 2009 report published by the World Tourism Organization, was to "convert risk into opportunity" by, as Lacouture acknowledged, addressing Colombia's perception problem head on. The bold campaign has paid off; Lacouture says tourism has increased by 10% each year since the campaign was launched.
A new ad campaign tried to educate prospective visitors that Colombia is more than coca fields and drug kingpins.