TODAY COLOMBIA – While Colombia’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism was giving tourism large credit for helping her country escape its violent past, putting it on a road to peace and prosperity, a number of travel industry officials said it’s not that simple.

The Danish furniture store BoConcept stands in Medellin, Colombia. Photographer: Mariana Greif Etchebehere/Bloomberg
The Danish furniture store BoConcept stands in Medellin, Colombia. Photographer: Mariana Greif Etchebehere/Bloomberg

Speaking to attendees at an opening dinner to mark the 21st Session of the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) General Assembly in Medellin, Cecilia Alvarez-Correa Glen credited tourism for turning the host “from the most violent city in the world” to a thriving metropolis.

WTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said Medellin represents how tourism can revitalize a destination. “Life is beautiful, and this is the industry that celebrates it,” he told delegates and international press. Alvarez-Correa noted July saw the lowest rate of violent crime nationwide in over 40 years. It is a sea change from 1991 when with 381 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, large swatches of the city were off limits to law enforcement, let alone tourists.

A report by Inter-American Development Bank noted, “(Medellin) has built a metro and a critical cable car transportation system that enables citizens in hillside communities to travel downtown to work or accomplish other business in a matter of minutes, whereas previously the same trajectory took hours in frustration. New green spaces and bicycle lanes have been built throughout the city. New ‘library parks’ (are) a combination public library, park, and community center with architecturally attractive structures (that) serve multiple purposes of education, recreation and social cohesion.”

All of this has been made possible by tourism, said Alvarez-Correa who told attendees, across the country 4.4 million people have been lifted from poverty and 235,000 new jobs were created by the a boon in foreign travelers. Year-to-date visitor count is up by 13 percent, nearly three times the world average, and Medellin has seen 17 percent growth.

Yet several senior industry executives in the audience said that peace was the prerequisite of Colombia’s ability to build its tourism industry. David Scowsill, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, an advocacy group made up of around 100 industry chief executives told ForbesLife.com, “Safety has to come first.” He said, even during the height of the drug wars that centered on Medellin, many other parts of the country were safe, but now with the entire country enjoying a resurgence, he added, “There is so much potential. They’re only scratching the surface.”

Geoffrey Lipman, a former WTO Assistant Secretary General and WTTC President agreed. “You get the opportunity for peace, and tourism can consolidate it,” he said. He noted, that tourism is a critical first stage industry as it brings money quickly to areas that have been scarred by violence, and it brings people together.

Vijay Poonoosamy, Vice President International & Public Affairs for Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways noted, that air service is often a good indicator of local conditions. He said airlines not only have to protect the well being of passengers, but also crews and local employees, plus expensive aircraft, meaning safe operations is paramount.

Article originally appeared at Todaycolombia.com


Stay up to date with the latest stories by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Facebook.