With the number of foreign visitors heading to Colombia growing every year, the country’s trade ministry is cracking down on informal businesses offering tourism-related services.
It’s no easy task. Almost half of Colombia’s working population (49.2%) is informally employed, working off the books and with little to no government or industry oversight. Bringing this huge amount of economic activity under the auspices of formal industry standards and control has been a historical and systemic challenge, both in Colombia and the region.
Colombia Formal and Informal Employment
With a majority (42%) of informal employment taking place in the commerce, hotel and restaurant sectors, increases in tourism activities are inherently vulnerable to the various small scale and comparatively inefficient informal companies.
According to Trade Minister Cecilia Alvarez, informality in the tourism sector is impeding the further development and potential of the industry.
To that end, the ministry created the first Inter-agency Committee to Combat Informality based in Cartegena, the country’s second most popular tourist destination after Bogota. The committee is a consortium of national police, city mayors, migration authorities and tourism unions aimed at “educating and rationalizing informal tourism service providers, and showing them that working in the law is safer and more beneficial,” according to the ministry.
In one of the committee’s first operations near Cartegena, authorities raided 43 buildings involved in tourism servicing. The search found that “a significant portion” of the businesses had updated their National Tourism Registration, a regulatory necessity for offering legal tourism services.
Those without the updated registration began the “respective administrative process.”
“What we want is not to prevent new housing options, but to enable them to act within the law and create examples of what will happen if you decide to stay in the informal sector,” the minister said during the 60 National Congress of Hospitality, which took place in Cartagena on September 18.
The Vice minister of tourism, Sandra Howard Taylor, was busy campaigning across different media sources warning of the dangers to tourists using services outside the formal sector.
Also at the conference was the executive chairman of the Hotel and Tourist Association Colombia (COTELCO), Gustavo Adolfo Toro, who labeled informality a “cancer to the industry,” urging authorities to control it. Toro also highlighted the “significant increase in hotel supply” by the arrival of international hotel chains which, he said, have improved the quality of services and infrastructure.
“The concern of the industry is to improve profitability, and to this end, we need to increase the tourism offer,” Toro said during the conference, noting that tourism “is the way to strengthen the country and build peace.”
- Informalidad del turismo en Colombia impide su crecimiento, según expertos (Caracol)
- Employment Statstics (DANE)
- MinCIT reporta resultados positivos en lucha contra el turismo informal (Ministerio de Comercio, industria y turismo)
- EN CARTAGENA DE INDIAS SE INSTALA COMITÉ DE TRABAJO CONTRA LA INFORMALIDAD TURÍSTICA (El Sol)