A prominent tourism festival named Colombia as the best ecotourism destination for 2014, local media reported Monday.
Colombia reportedly beat Russia, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles to win the coveted prize, awarded by the annual World Tourism Festival, held this year in Shanghai.
According to the judges, the prize was awarded due to Colombia’s great biodiversity and wide variety of trips and experiences on offer for those interested in nature-based travel.
Popular destinations currently include such places as Bahia Solano in the west — a Pacific bay known for white beaches, prime surf and pristine coral reefs that serve as a nursery for various species of whale — and Parque Tayrona on the Caribbean coast, which contains desert, jungle and mountainous ecosystems.
Maria Claudia Lacouture, President of Proexport, the organization in charge of the promotion of Colombian exports and tourism abroad, explained that the reason for Colombia’s success is that “asian markets enjoy the interesting options such as bird and whale watching, the rich biodiversity, climate and places” which Colombia offers.
Colombia has 1,500 native plant species, 330 amphibians not fond anywhere else in the world and 314 different ecosystems as well as having the third largest diversity of mammals, reptiles and plants worldwide. With coasts on both oceans, three distinct Andes Mountains ranges and the Amazon rain forest to the south, Colombia is said to have the greatest biodiversity of any country on Earth.
Recent reports from the Environmental Ministry, however, have shown that only 1% of the national budget is being spent on sustaining the environment, whereas as 65% is being spent maintaining the military.
According to the Country Environmental Analysis done by the World Bank in 2007, environmental degradation generates a cost equivalent to 3.7 percent of Colombia’s GDP annually. Additionally, activities like logging and multinational and large-scale illegal mining can have devastating effects on ecosystems and water supplies, as well as local human populations.
Many of Colombia’s indigenous tribes face the same existential risks as its endangered species, brought on by the degradation of their lands. And the destruction of local environments has spurred various social movements in recent years, including the ongoing agrarian strike taking place throughout the country.
A report by the Ministry of Environment and the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) is due to be released on Tuesday and will analyze key problems facing Colombia’s diverse ecosystems, changes in land use (for activities such as farming, mining and illegal crops), ecosystem degradation, biological invasion of other species, pollution and climate change.
The ecotourism award may give the country another reason to protect its natural endowment, aside from the basic human concerns and other financial incentives, as the government has made bolstering international tourism a top priority over the course of the past decade.