Tourists and Tourism

Floppy straw hats, beach gear, and sunburns waiting to happen. Must mean vacation time for warmth-seeking tourists.  And even if you are wrapped in scarves, nursing tall cups of overpriced coffee, and longing for a little beach time of your own, I would like to wish you a happy World Tourism Day!

Which perhaps doesn’t sound awfully exciting, but most of us have been tourist sometime in our lives and if you’re reading this, I am going to assume you are interested at least a little in travel.  And if you’re a country like Colombia, you are very interested in tourism as well.

Though we all know that cringe-worthy stereotype of a Tourist (the Hawaiian shirt-wearing, camera-touting, judgment-inducing version), I have no problem myself admitting being a tourist (lower-case t) in many areas across the world.  My love of travel has defined my adult life thus far.

While traveling Colombia, becoming a tourist in my adopted country, I ran into travelers and Tourists of all kinds discovering Colombia for themselves.  Certainly backpackers — mostly Europeans — have started to discover the cities, beaches, jungles, and culture of Colombia (I ran into few U.S. Americans while there) but gap-year Brits, Germans, and Australians were not the only ones helping the rise of the tourist industry in Colombia.

Visiting Colombia is not as cutting edge as you might think.

In fact, Colombia’s Caribbean coast is a fast-growing stop off for Caribbean cruise ships.  In 2006 there were only 53 landfalls of cruise ships, a number that shot up to 166 in 2012.

Pretty much all of those cruise ships docked in Cartagena.  A couple may have stopped in Colombia’s other main ports of Barranquilla or Santa Marta, but let’s be honest: Cartagena’s mix of beaches, historic center, and stone walls make it Colombia’s top tourist destination along with Bogotá.  However, while I don’t have specific statistics, I am going to go out on a limb here and say very few cruise ships dock in Bogotá. (Quick geography lesson: Bogotá is land-locked in the high Andes.)

While just seeing the top tourist sites in Cartagena could hardly count as visiting Colombia, it at least helps shape a more positive view of Colombia.

Tourists just off their cruise ship walk the 16th Century stone walls of the Centro, Cartagena.
I think they’re tourists… Visitors to Cartagena in 2011 walk the 16th Century stone walls of the Centro.

Resort travelers, budget travelers, and cruise passengers also mix with business travelers.

Perhaps if you visited Colombia between 2010 and 2012, you were one of the over 340,000 travelers who came for the Iberoamerican Congress of Pediatric Surgery, the General Assembly of the Lighting Urban Community International, or other thrilling conferences and conventions.

Or if you’re still planning your vacations over the next few years, mark your calendars for the Pan American Congress of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, the World Summit of the Science of Coffee (I bet they have some awesome refreshments), or the Pan American Congress of Gastroenterology (who probably have healthier and perhaps less tasty refreshments).

Something for everyone.

No matter why they’re coming, the number of tourists visiting Colombia had grown 300% in the past decade to around 1.5 million tourists every year. Perhaps not the numbers Italy or France are drawing, but quite the growth in comparison to the fact that only 540,000 tourists traveled to Colombia in 2002. In 2012 there were more than half that number of cruise passengers alone stepping off ships in Colombia.

And being a tourist destination, and changing its reputation of a war-torn, drug-fueled nation, is become an important part of Colombia’s new identity in the 21st Century.

So celebrate World Tourism Day for the benefits tourism can bring communities, and the knowledge we all gain by traveling. 

Even if you are just stopping off for a couple of hours in the port city of Cartagena.


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