Tourism is thriving in Colombia but instead of
celebrating, people should be asking themselves whether this is really
a positive development. There is no denying that tourism is a blessing
for any country. Not just for the hard cash that it generates, but also
for the pressure it puts on the government to clean up its act.
Unfortunately, this is not exactly what is happening in Colombia. The selective tourism is failing to aid the country’s social and economic development.
The government appears to be successful in the
public relations campaign – euphemism for propaganda – of luring
international tourists to the country as the latest data shows.
Slogans such as “the only risk is wanting to stay” and “Colombia is
passion” have not only being promoted internationally, but also nationally.
Of course this is understandable because this propaganda sends the
subliminal message that the government has solved the problems that
plagued the country in previous years such as rampant crime,
kidnappings and a general state of insecurity.
The government has provided security but the places
where this has occurred becomes evident when one investigates where the
well-off tourists and Colombians spend their holidays. Foreigners and
Colombians would obviously want to visit the main cities and specific places within those cities such as the old city in Cartagena,
the Zone Rosa in Bogota and parque Lleras in Medellin.
But how many would actually visit the outskirts of Cartagena where a quarter of the population live in hunger,
the south of Bogota where many of the victims of state crimes lived or
the neighborhoods in the north east of Medellin where paramilitary
groups have taken control again?
The hard cash that tourism generates is not actually helping Colombians that really need it. The record number of cruise passengers
that arrive in Cartagena barely leave the old city before returning to
their comfortable bunk beds. Others, like RCN News in English anchor
Brian Andrews, are happy to spend their days in the international
hotel’s swimming pool because the hassle of starving beach hawkers “completely destroys the beach experience”
Unfortunately for Andrews, and luckily for sex
predators, the revenues of the hotels and shops have not been invested
in social and educational programs that seek to eradicate poverty,
which in turn could end the poor people’s desperate search for income
on the beach or in the hotel rooms of gringos.
This new found tourism only highlights that it is
safe to travel to the main cities especially those where the business
community have interests in. However, this “security” only come at the
expense of state crimes and government neglect of other regions and
cities in the country. In other words, tourism, national and
international, may only be legitimizing the means taken by the
government to achieve this apparent sense of security enjoyed by only a
Perhaps the Colombian tourism board is correct. The
only risk is wanting to stay (in some places) in Cartagena, Bogota and
Medellin. That is, if a glimpse of the absolute poverty people around you live in, doesn’t ruin your holiday.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong