According to the World Tourism and Trade Council, a think tank and advocacy group that promotes tourism internationally, tourism’s total contribution to the Colombian GDP in 2014 was $22.3 billion, or 5.8% of GDP.
Fighting Colombia’s bad reputation
When it comes to tourism, Colombia lags behind its South American neighbors. International travelers often overlook Colombia due to its history of violence and an on-going internal armed conflict with the leftist guerrilla groups FARC and ELN.
Colombia comes in behind popular Latin American destinations Brazil ($209 billion; 9.6% GDP) and Mexico ($189 billion; 14.8% GDP).
Santos indicated that his biggest objective to spur tourism is to achieve peace.
“With peace, opportunities will multiply and all these energies and efforts devoted to the war will go into social programs…Tourism is the industry that is going to benefit the most, because, we cannot deny it, many people still do not come due to the fact that we are on the list of countries with an on-going internal armed conflict,” he said.
At the conference, Santos announced the extension of tax breaks for hotel construction to spur investment in its tourism infrastructure.
“Hotels and restaurants are the sector that receive the third most foreign investment in our country. We wanted to further stimulate the realization of hotel projects and that’s why we are giving hotels that start construction in our country before December 31, 2017, a total exemption from income tax for 30 years for hotel services rendered.”
According to the president’s office, the measure is expected to generate 300,000 new jobs in the tourism sector by 2018, bolstering Colombian tourism destinations like Cartagena, the San Andres Island, Santa Marta, and the Coffee Zone.
Since 2010, Colombia has opened 175 hotels, resulting in 20,000 rooms. With the tax break, the country expects an additional 46 hotels to be built over the next four years.
Investing in infrastructure
Santos also announced plans to promote additional flight options, and improve transportation infrastructure in the country. Colombia plans to modernize 58 airports, and investment in roads throughout the country.
“In order to bring more tourists we need more connectivity and therefore also we are also moving towards being a country of open skies, and increasingly open air routes from various parts of the world, not only to Bogota, but to cities like Medellin, Bucaramanga and Cali,” the president said.